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01.08.2005 Business & Finance

Mass job losses at Tema Port


Stevedoring hit by foreign takeover Following the signing of a contractual agreement between management of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and some foreign investors, including Messer' AP Moeller Terminals, on container terminal operations at the nation's seaports, The Chronicle sources close to the stevedoring operators have hinted at thousands of job losses at the Tema port. The stevedoring industry will suffer a direct hit, as the establishment and control of the container terminal to the exclusion of indigenous businesses implies the loss of an estimated 70% of their operations and consequently 70% of their revenue.

But in the current state of affairs, stevedoring companies collectively employ about 1,000 employees, while they employ labour from Ghana Dock Labour Company, which has a pool of over 2,000 employees, most of whose services are used by stevedoring companies.

Obviously, this would only seek to create a substantial loss of jobs in a country where unemployment levels are at a record higher than expected.

Available information shows that in Tanzania, when an operator of the country's new container terminal began operations, 300 persons lost their jobs and this translated to half the workforce of the port authority becoming jobless.

Informed sources explained that the import of AP Moeller shipping line's exclusive access over cargo from the port of loading through to the port of discharge and final delivery has several ramifications, apart from job losses.

Under normal circumstances, such exclusive control over cargo entering the country's ports by foreign entities also has inherent risks on national security.

In the face of all these, of grave concern to private stakeholders in the maritime industry is the mystery that has surrounded the consortium, the container terminal and contract regulating the terms and conditions of its operations.

A similar incident happened in Cote d'Ivoire where the Verdi Container Terminal concession was awarded to Bollare (incidentally one of the members of this consortium).

Until recently, the seaports of this country were run as a complete state monopoly and were obviously characterized by low productivity, inadequate investment and low standard of services, resulting in a lack of competition at the country's seaports, as compared to what obtained in others within the west African sub region.

As part of measures instituted to resolve problems associated with our ports, it became incumbent that there should be the need for comprehensive institutional reforms and opening of port operations to private business.

It would be recalled that the first public-private partnership undertaken by GPHA, on recommendations from the Bretton Woods institutions in 2001, ceded 50% of stevedoring activity and licensed five stevedoring companies to operate at the Tema port, but now, their operations are becoming a fading dream.

The objective of these institutional reforms and privatization of the port was to ensure that the GPHA divests itself of port operations and focuses on its core function as a regulator.

In line with this, the landlord port bill, which is expected to clearly define the role of GPHA in the seaports of the country, is yet to be enacted.

The gateway project was also instituted to create a suitable environment for investment, stimulate private sector growth, give the Tema port a major facelift to augment its capacity to handle and store containers and later turn ships and trucks round with optimum efficiency.

The GPHA was therefore to construct a container terminal to service the increased number of containers calling at the ports.

When the paper contacted the GPHA boss, Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, he noted that the contract between GPHA and the foreign consortium would in no way affect indigenous businesses.

According to him, the port needs to expand and meet international requirement, which none of the local ones could meet, especially the capital and expertise involved, hence the GPHA was left with no other option than to lean on foreign investors, saying “to me, it is the best deal we have ever secured for the country.”

He however noted that if, for one reason or the other, any stevedoring company felt it had been affected, it could go into joint operations with other shipping lines outside the country.