Dockworkers at Greece’s main ports of Thessaloniki and Piraeus have joined air traffic controllers, rail workers, hauliers and seafarers in a 48-hour general strike this week. The protest, against the government’s handling of the economic crisis affecting the country, is the fourth strike to have hit the country this year and commercial activity at both ports is expected to be suspended until Thursday.
As well as the severe austerity measures being proposed, the plans include the privatisation of the ports, which is expected to be announced following a government vote today (Wednesday), something that has been strongly contested in previous disputes (read more here). 
Despite the disruption, however, car carriers using the ports have remained operational, something helped by the strikes being limited to between one and two days.
“These days can be avoided by such things as changing rotations and vessel speed most of the times,” said K-Line’s director and general manager of the Car Carrier Group, Peter Menzel. “The affect on our business is therefore very limited and doesn't require alternative scenarios as were required during the privatisation process of the container terminals.”
Similarly, the latest general strike has not affected United European Car Carriers (UECC), according to Nikos Papanastasiou, Commercial & Operations representative in the Car Sales Team.
“Efficient operational planning and on-time information flow on the decision of the unions of port labourers and employees for their participation on the 48-hour general strike, allowed us to bring, operate and sail our vessel from Piraeus on the evening of the 27 June,” he told Automotive Logistics.
Papanastasiou said that while Greece's severe financial situation is still seriously impacting the domestic car imports, UECC has not been so badly affected because of the low import volumes it controls.
“Contrary to this downward trend, we saw strong figures for transshipment cargoes via Piraeus, mainly bound for growing Turkey,” he added. And, in relation to the plans for privatisation he said that UECC would continue to keep a strong focus on the competitive advantages of working through the port.
“Privatised or not, we will still see Piraeus port with same strategic view,” he said. “The main one from which we benefit the most being its strategic location geographically and the dynamism this offers on transit cargoes.”
For K-Line, privatisation at this stage is not expected to have any impact because it is focused on container terminals and strike action related to these terminals has been over for a year. However, Menzel admitted that there was a chance that parts of the car terminals at the ports could be privatised at a later date if investors could be found and he said that should the ports then go back to a scenario that resembled the container terminal strikes, K-Line would look for alternatives, which could include private ports in Greece or those outside the country.
According to Naples-based forwarder Grimaldi, meanwhile, the privatisation process at the Greek ports is unavoidable because of the fact that the Greek state needs money to pay its increasing debt. But the company said it needs to understand how this process will be conducted and how long it will take.
“It [will be] particularly interesting to see whether terminals within these ports will be sold or given in long-term concessions to operators,” said Grimaldi spokesman, Paul Kyprianou. “This could be an opportunity for shipping operators, such as Grimaldi, to invest in the country, creating new opportunities of trade, new jobs and allowing the whole logistics chain to be more competitive.”
He went onto say the privatisation could make the Greek ports more competitive as a bridge for shipments of rolling units between South East Asia, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Grimaldi has also avoided being affected by the current strikes but said it was looking closely at the situation to limit any disruption, adding that it had capacity to adapt by diverting shipments to alternative ports.
“Possible strikes against the privatisation process could disrupt our regular services to Greek ports but everything will depend on the duration and the intensity of these strikes,” said Kyprianou.
Longer term, UECC expects the decisions being made this week to result in what Papanastasiou termed “fast and solid decisions” that will guarantee operational stability and remove existing uncertainty caused by previous actions. These decisions will turn Piraeus into “a modern port offering good performance on stevedores productivity and ships operations at port,” he added.  
Privatisation of public Greek assets is among the requirements imposed by the EU and the IMF in return for the €120 billion ($170 billion) second bailout aimed at helping Greece pay off its debts.
The government wants to pass a new 2012-2015 austerity programme worth €28 billion to avoid being cut off from that bailout package. But there have been widespread protests against the proposals, which unions in the country have called “harsh and unjust”. This week Athens has seen its worst rioting for more than a year.