JOANA RAMIRO reports from Athens on the port workers stripped of their rights and praying for renationalisation
AT THE heart of the Greek elections this weekend lay the fates of thousands of dockers and port workers — especially those employed by Chinese shipping company Cosco, which runs Piraeus port Pier 3.
Left parties have long promised to renationalise Pier 3, which was practically given away to Cosco by Piraeus’s neoliberal New Democracy government in 2009.
An impending left-wing government could finally make it a reality.
Port Employees Federation of Greece (OMYLE) secretariat member Anastasia Frantzeskaki said that returning control to the Piraeus Port Authority would mean immediate gains to dock and port workers’ lives.
“The day after the privatisation of Pier 3 a new situation emerged in the port concerning labour relations, concerning the activities that we ran on the port.
“Something like 500 colleagues of mine, the day after, were out of jobs.
“At the same time it was given to Cosco the right to use people in the area — dock workers — but they were not characterised as dock workers, so they didn’t have a collective bargaining agreement or a certain map of rights.”
Frantzeskaki knows that to continue to run Pier 3 as a private enterprise could mean the elimination of workers’ rights both in and outside the private sector.
The company has since created a series of tax evasion mechanisms by using multiple contractors and sub-contractors to hire port personnel.
Working conditions at Pier 3 are abysmal, with health and safety measures neglected and workers on call 24/7.
“They find out only an hour or two before that they are going to work a certain shift,” she explains, adding that shifts could end up being anything from two to 14 hours.
A dockworker’s phone might go off any day of the week, regardless of whether they took the day off or not.
“The tricks that workers found (to cope) with this are switching their phones off, although officially this is not permitted, or to say ‘I was in an area where there was no network,’ or ‘I was out of Athens, so it was not possible to return.’
But in a country where jobs are hard to find and youth unemployment rates are over 50 per cent, people have accepted the precarity of Cosco’s employment.
To bring Pier 3 back into public management would be the first sign of the beginning of the end of austerity in Greece.
It would also present the opportunity to change the way things are organised, to put decision-making power back in the hands of the workers and to regulate a larger chunk of the Greek economy.
“A first step towards greater change,” is how Ms Frantzeskaki describes this weekend’s elections — though her tone is uncompromising.
The only thing that is certain is that the decisions of a Syriza government and the future of the port and dockworkers in Piraeus are woven together.