Hours before the Greek government announced the immediate closure of national public television last week, Giorgos Gogos, sitting in his somewhat Soviet office in one of the few buildings still open in the old part of the port of Piraeus, explained their fears for their future work and that of their colleagues. Gogos is the general secretary of the port workers’ union which unsuccessfully opposed the partial privatization of the commercial transport activities of the Hellenic terminal, one of the main gateways for goods traffic in Europe. “You can’t sell control of something as strategic as naval transport management to a foreign company,” he said.
Three years ago, the State gave the 35-year operating concession for 500 million euros for the largest of the two existing quays to the Chinese public company Cosco. Both the Greek authorities and the new leaders welcome the operation. “Although with large investments, in three years we have tripled the performance of the terminal. The general recession of the Greek economy did not allow us to take advantage of the results that we could have had”, comments Tassos Vamvakidis, commercial director of PCT, the company controlled by Cosco which operates in the port.
Unions of workers in the public company argue that this was done through “unfair competition” based on the reduction of working conditions. His argument is supported by cases like that of Dimitris Batsoulis. When the crisis forces him to close his excavation business, he embarks on the difficult adventure of looking for work in a country where one in four people is unemployed. In a way, he was lucky. A friend told him that they were looking for people for the part of the port managed by Cosco. He sent his CV and passed the interview with a subcontractor company of the Chinese colossus. “I started working there in June 2011, formally for another subcontractor with whom I had had no contact until then,” says Batsoulis. The experience was short-lived. He was fired in February 2012 after saying he tried to form an internal union to change working conditions.
“They told me when to go to work by message and they told us three or four hours in advance. We had no life. We were on alert 24 hours a day. We complained and they said they were going to change it. But after four or five months, it was still like that,” he said. Shift work is among Batsoulis’ allegations in his lawsuit he filed. “In the elevators, the ventilation system was not working, neither for summer nor for winter. One day I was working with minus one and it was snowing. I knew that I was putting my life and that of my companions in danger. My hands were frozen after three hours. And then I got off the machine. They left me at home for a week without working, “says the former worker who now hopes that the case will be resolved in court. The salary was d ‘about 50 euros a day for 22 days a month.’ Doing night shifts or weekends was not a problem. importance,” he adds.
PCT’s commercial director claims that Batsoulis “was never an employee of Cosco or PCT and, to our knowledge, he was an employee of a contracting company and was terminated for misconduct.” And he adds: “We wonder why we should comment on the complaints of a worker who was dismissed for misconduct, when during these three years of operation of PCT, hundreds of workers and employees are building a success story with PCT management”.
Batsoulis’s story is one of the faces of the “internal devaluation” that Greece is applying to try to get out of the hole of a recession that began six years ago and which has not only gone through the reduction of 30% of the wages of civil servants or the minimum wage up to 586 euros, but also due to reorganizations of the labor structure such as that of Porto del Piraeus. As for ERT, the public broadcaster that the executive has defined this week as the kingdom of waste, for Piraeus too, the justification for past and future changes is the impossibility of maintaining unsustainable privileges and expenses and increasing the ‘efficiency.
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In conversations with managers, most do not defend the status quo nor are they opposed to change but they refuse to be stigmatized as the bad apples of the country, privileged within a system partly greased by a quota of clientelism used for years by parties of all persuasions to expand their electoral base. In the ERT itself, during the long hours of confinement that workers began on the night of June 11, many did not deny the need for restructuring. “But one thing is to reform, another is to make us disappear under the pretext of reform”, commented one of the employees in the corridors of the national channel.
Fear is common to many employees of public companies who fear “disappearing” to find themselves on the lists that the government must draw up to comply with what was agreed with the troika of international creditors: 15,000 layoffs in the sector during the 2013-2014 biennium. The plan, approved by Parliament in April, provided for 2,000 furloughs before the end of June and another 2,000 before the end of 2014. For many, this is the reason for the abrupt closure of the ERT: offer the troika 2,650 redundancies on a plateau, at the same time, as much as the number of employees at the station.
For others, the reason for the coup d’etat by the executive of Antonis Samaras lies in the need to cover the failure of the plan to sell to the Russian colossus Gazprom DEPA, the public gas company and one of the crown jewels of the list of assets the state is trying to get rid of. Nicholas Vafiatis, a Greek journalist who has followed the privatization program, says the fiasco was a serious setback for the government. “That’s why they are now trying to get the troika to give more time to complete the planned privatizations and avoid the risk of underselling,” says Vafiatis. Returning to what has already been done, he considers that the concession granted to Cosco for the port of Piraeus was a success, as it led to the modernization of the facilities and an increase in productivity. “Even if it is true that for the workers, the conditions have deteriorated,” he acknowledges. “You see that to get out of the crisis, you have to work like the Chinese,” he adds.