Unions react strongly to shipyard accident
A workplace accident, which claimed several lives on 20 October 2001 in Greece's Kynosoura shipyard, provoked a strong reaction from trade unions throughout Greece, including strikes, a formal complaint and an injunction against the owners of the ship concerned.
On 20 October 2001, five metalworkers died following an explosion on board the tanker M/T SAILOR at Kynosoura, Salamina. The Metalworkers' Union stated that the accident, which provoked the anger of trade unions throughout Greece, was the result of the complete absence of even the most rudimentary safety measures in the Kynosoura ship-building and repairs zone. The union also stated that since December 1999 it has repeatedly sent reports to the legal and forensic authorities urging them to investigate the causes of other work-related accidents in the zone. Likewise, the Pan Hellenic Federation of Metal Workers and Employees addressed a letter to the Ministry of the Merchant Marine and the Ministry of Labour, in which it claimed that all the work-related accidents that have occurred in the zone have resulted either from lack of action on the part of the competent Ministries to confirm workers' complaints about illegal channels for certifying the standard of work carried out in the zone, or from government indifference in monitoring and upholding the law.
The Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE), the Piraeus Labour Centre and the unions representing workers in the Kynosoura ship-building and repairs zone have jointly filed a formal complaint against all responsible parties. According to a press release issued by GSEE on 22 October 2001, in the formal complaint, which serves as another means for workers to apply pressure over the unacceptable workplace safety conditions that have allegedly prevailed for years in the ship-building and repairs zone, the workers and unions call on the Greek system of justice to intervene directly and decisively, to inflict exemplary punishment on those responsible and to take effective action. Specifically, the unions are demanding that:
- an example be made of those responsible for the accident;
- the measures and penalties imposed on shipping companies and contractors which break the law be made more severe, even to the point that they lose their operating licences;
- a special authority be set up in charge of monitoring all ship repairs, retrofits and building in the ship-building and repairs zone; and
- the current five-member monitoring committees be reinforced with specialised scientific staff and material and technical infrastructure.
Apart from the joint complaint filed by the unions, a series of strikes were held between 22 and 26 October 2001, mainly by the workers and unions in the metalworking sector. On 30 October, the Piraeus Labour Centre called a Piraeus-wide four-hour work stoppage, with mass participation by workers and representatives of all the country's trade unions.
Following a petition for an injunction filed by the families of the victims, a court ruled on 31 October 2001 that M/T SAILOR would not be allowed to sail until the ship-owners had paid the families of the metalworkers who were killed the sum of GRD 2.7 billion. The Labour Force Employment Organisation (OAED) decided to make a special relief payment to each of the victims families, of GRD 3 million, and the deputy Minister of Labour declared that an interministerial meeting would be held by all the competent ministries to decide on the permanent presence of a safety engineer in the zone, as well as the creation of a registry for contracting companies.