Photo: HHLA/Thies Rätzke

MSC’s planned acquisition of a 49% stake in Hamburg terminal and intermodal operator HHLA hit a hurdle this week when opposition parties in the municipality’s parliament forced a public consultation on the sale.

Hamburg’s governing coalition government had hoped to hold a vote that would see the purchase formally approved before the parliament begins its summer recess, on 10 July.

However, during a municipality budget meeting on Tuesday, the right-wing AfD and left-wing FPD parties managed to push through a public hearing, set for 20 July, to allow citizens and other parties to express views on the deal.

After the hearing, there will be senate and non-public budget committee meetings, which means, according to local broadcaster NDR, that it is highly unlikely a vote will be taken before the parliament summer recess.

MSC and the Hamburg municipality have spent the best part of the past year building up a 90%-plus stake in HHLA, which would allow them to “squeeze out” the other shareholders.

MSC has committed to injecting €450m into HHLA’s equity, to bring 1m teu in volumes a year to Hamburg by 2031 and build a new headquarters in the city.

It is understood, however, that it is HHLA’s large central and eastern European intermodal network, operated by its Metrans subsidiary, that was the chief attraction for the Geneva-headquartered carrier.

Meanwhile, next week is going to be busy for the German port industry as negotiations between employers and the Ver.di union continue over docker pay, with a third round of talks scheduled on 17 and 18 June.

Ver.di, which this week delivered a 1,000-signature petition against the HHLA-MSC deal to Hamburg politicians, is also organising a  series of dock strikes in Bremerhaven and Hamburg, after talks with the Central Association of German Seaport Operators (ZDS) last week ended with the union unable to secure a €3 “increase in hourly wages for port workers, as of 1 June 2024, as well as a corresponding increase in shift bonuses, including making up for the lack of an increase in shift bonuses in the 2022 collective bargaining agreement”.

Ver.di negotiator Maren Ulbrich said: “The offer the employers have presented is completely inadequate. It does not mean any real wage growth for the employees, and the social component is also absolutely inadequate.

“Employees need a significant increase in their wages in order to be able to pay for the increased cost of living.

“With their insufficient offer, the employers have now provoked strikes,” added Ms Ulbrich.

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