India’s Port of Cochin was at a standstill for the seventh consecutive day on Tuesday as port terminal authorities and unions failed to find an amicable solution to labor concerns despite intense negotiations.
The Trade Union Coordination Committee, comprising all major labor federations in the port, launched an indefinite strike Feb. 2 demanding job protection for some 10,000 existing workers who were likely to be rendered jobless with the commissioning of a new private container terminal.
During conciliatory talks with the port chairman Monday, union leaders insisted the port terminal continue to handle coastal container vessels in a bid to minimize potential job losses.
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The chairman turned down this request, citing provisions in the license agreement signed between the landlord port and terminal developer DP World. “The agreement bars container handling in the port terminal once the new facility starts commercial operations,” port officials told union representatives.
A shipping line agent at Cochin said the port is not in a position to pressure its concessionaire to modify conditions agreed upon earlier.
The agent also said several vessels were stranded at the outer anchorage and many more were scheduled to arrive. “If the strike is not called off immediately, carriers would be forced to skip Cochin calls and divert vessels to neighboring ports”, he said.
At the same time, various user associations filed a petition in the Cochin High Court seeking its urgent intervention and directions to all stakeholders in the interest of trade.
The new terminal, India’s first transshipment facility, is scheduled to open Feb. 11 with annual capacity of 1 million 20-foot equivalent units in the first phase.
According to industry analysts, frequent labor unrest could jeopardize Cochin’s competitive position vis-à-vis leading transshipment hubs in the region, particularly Sri Lanka’s Port of Cochin.