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India’s major public ports – already under growth pressure because of increasing competition from non-government cargo handlers led by Adani Group – face a renewed threat of labour stoppages after the government cleared new legislation reforming management systems.
Trade unions representing dockworkers have voted to stage an indefinite nationwide strike on or after 15 December, to press for various demands, notably consultation on the new Major Port Authorities Act.
“Immediate action may be taken to discuss the rules of the act with the recognised (labour) federations as assured by the management,” a consortium of labour groups said in a notice to port authorities.
Unions are also seeking wage contract negotiations
The new port law, which replaces provisions enacted in 1963, was intended to transform landlord ports into independent companies with greater functional autonomy and position them in “a freer, deregulated operating environment to better compete with privately run minor ports”.
However, labour unions are concerned that the changes could result in job losses and privatisation of port activities.
“Withdraw the anti-port and anti-labour decisions of the government to provide additional concessions to the corporate, PPP [public-private-partnership]/BOT [build-operate-transfer] operators in the major ports,” they demanded.
India has 12 major government-controlled ports, of which Ennore (now renamed Kamarajar), near Chennai, had already been corporatised.
And Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (Nhava Sheva) commands a significant portion of Indian containerised traffic and is in the middle of a further 2.4m teu capacity expansion under a two-phase concession awarded to PSA International.
From a broader trade perspective, the planned strike action comes as shippers are scrambling to find vessel capacity to take advantage of the resurgent market environment. So, any supply chain disruptions could add to their difficulties and slow port volume growth.