An indefinite strike by trailer crew since Monday demanding higher wages has hit movement of containers at the Kochi Port.

Benedict Fernandez, Vice-Chairman, Trade Union Coordination Committee, alleged that the trailer-owners’ association had back-tracked from the assurance given to workers to provide a 10.5 per cent hike in wages, which was agreed before the District Collector.

This strike has been forced upon the trade unions, as they had scaled down from the earlier demand of 50 per cent hike after the district administration intervened, he added.

The International Containet Transhipment Terminal officials said that these sorts of hindrances and disruptions in cargo movement would dent the image of the port, particularly at a time when mainline shipping services are looking at Kochi after Cabotage waiver.

Containers waiting

There are about 3,000 import containers at the terminal now, and most of them have perishable items such as fruits from the US and China. The ongoing strike will affect the shelf life of such products, the officials added.

P. Narayan, President, Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the current strike was totally uncalled for and would once again bring into question the credibility of Kochi and its operations.

“We fail to understand why there should be a total stoppage of work at the Port at a time when the shippers are under tremendous pressure to meet various export commitments,” he said.

According to the container-owners’ association, the reason for the current strike is the unreasonable wage hike demands being made by drivers and cleaners of container lorries. They have demanded for drivers from the current 8 per cent to 11 per cent on tariff and for cleaners from the current 4 per cent to 5.5 per cent.

The demand included toll payments, increases in fuel costs and any other future increases. This implies that whenever costs under any of the components of the tariff rise, drivers and cleaners would automatically have to be paid higher wages. This is totally unreasonable and unheard of, the container owners said.

Bruce Thadathil, Secretary, Cochin Customs House Agents Association, said that it was high time a mechanism was evolved, which would not hamper the trade.

Any grievance related to port users, trade unions, trailers, custom house agents, etc., must be placed before a body consisting representatives of all concerned. They should examine each demand and find solutions without hampering the port operations, he added.

sajeevkumar.v@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 5, 2013)
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