Government and Unions still in talks about port concessioning

Sep 28, 2003
Author: P&S

The government and trade unions remain locked in talks over proposed concessioning of the South African port terminals, which is due to begin with the Durban Container Terminal (DCT).

Labour holds the view that port concessioning, particularly if it starts with the Durban Container Terminal (DCT), would fragment SA Port Operations.

“Forcing each other terminal to stand alone will be financially devastating for at least half of SA Port Operations’ terminals,” it maintains.

Labour says government has yet to provide a plan for managing these threatened terminals that employ more than half of SA Port Operations’ 6,000 strong workforce.

“The Iron Ore Terminal at Saldanha Bay is a case in point. It will be a quarter of a billion rands in the red in five years time if it is separated from the cash flows of the rest of SA Port Operations.”

In the meantime, minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe denied recent newspaper headlines that the concessioning had been placed on hold for 18 months. Speaking at last Friday’s Maritime Black Economic Empowerment Charter indaba, he said the reports left him feeling puzzled as he had been out of the country when they were made.

It turns out that when the director of port restructuring Richard Goode was addressing parliament’s public enterprise committee he told them the process of concessioning a terminal like the DCT could take up to 18 months to finalise. What he didn’t say was that it would be another 18 months before the process began, as was misconstrued in some media.

“Government’s policy on concessioning remains quite clear, as was stated in the White Paper, and legislation to make it possible had its second reading in parliament on 18 September,” says Goode.

Meanwhile Randall Howard, general secretary of the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) confirmed that labour was talking with government on port concessioning, with which labour remains strongly opposed. He told Ports & Ships that labour had met again with ministers Radebe (Public Enterprises) and Omar (Transport) on 22 September and although the issue on concessioning had not been agreed upon with respect to the Durban Container Terminal, there were areas where progress had been made.

Among these issues were job security, social benefits and access to the NPA/SA Port Operations’ HIV/Aids Lifestyle programme.

“We remain adamant that SA Port Operations should not be fragmented. Labour is not averse to the role the private sector can play in addressing inefficiencies, or even to have a role that complements SA Port Operations.

“An example of this is where management doesn’t possess the necessary skills then the private sector could be invited to assist. The Department of Public Enterprises wants to concession DCT completely. We remain unconvinced that this is necessary and with joint management involving labour and DCT management we believe the terminal can be made efficient.”

Howard said the question now is whether labour and government can find effective and sustainable agreement that meets the country’s best interests.

Richard Goode, Public Enterprises’ director of restructuring said it would be unfortunate if talks broke down leading to confrontation. “God forbid. My personal view is there is too much to lose, on both sides. We are all working very hard to reach agreement.”

He said that the unions were unlikely to change their view of resisting concessioning but he hoped they might come on board to make the best possible deal for their members.

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