21 February 2019

Sudan: Striking Workers Reject Privatisation in Port Sudan

Port Sudan — Strikes carry on in Port Sudan, as workers in the Southern Port rejected the signing of a contract with Philippine company, International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI), and blocked a visiting committee from entering the port.

Workers in the Southern Port of Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea state, refused to meet with a presidential committee that arrived on Wednesday. The committee was brought to convince workers that a privatisation contract signed with ICTSI will be beneficial for the local economy.

They fear that ICTSI, which won the bid to operate the southern cargo port of the harbour, will "absorb about 1,000 workers out of a total of 6,500 registered workers".

Abboud El Sherbini, one of the trade union leaders in the port, told Radio Dabanga that the workers gathered in the courtyard of the Southern Port and refused to meet the committee composed of Musa Mohamed Ahmed, Osman Fegrei, and Jalal Sheliya, the new director of ports who was appointed yesterday after the dismissal of Gen Abdelhafiz Saleh against the backdrop of the latter's opposition to privatisation.

Chants of "no to privatisation", "not for sale" and "one hundred percent Sudanese" could be heard, as the committee was forced to leave the Southern Port. Videos on social media show a mass of workers marching through the port.

Port activity has been completely suspended for three days due to a mass strike by workers in rejection of the privatisation contract signed by the government with ICTSI. The African News Network reported that at least 1800 workers attended the protest on Monday.

Evidence of loss to state

The recently-formed Committee against Privatisation renewed its rejection of the 20-year contract in a seminar held at the Beja Club in Port Sudan on Tuesday evening. According to the committee, it has documents to confirm that the contract represents a great loss to the state. Displacement of workers from the port if the contract is signed was also discussed.

They explained that their interest is in safeguarding the interests of the country, port workers, and workers of the Southern Port in particular.

This follows news on February 19 that the committee would prepare its observations, reservations and opinion on the agreement and is ready to "sit down with any official body to discuss our substantive justification for the rejection of the agreement".

ICTSI: Poor track record

Engineer Sami El Sayegh, a leading member of the Reform Committee of the Port Workers Union, accused the Philippine company of espionage and other acts affecting state security over the past five years.

The contract with the company has political dimensions according to El Sayegh, accusing parties he did not name of seeking to stop work at the port.

He said in his interview with Radio Dabanga that the company has failed to implement the previous agreement to develop the Southern Port, explaining that it has acted only on the shipping and unloading of ships, one out of seven agreed activities. According to him, the company is only interested in exported and imported goods.

The ports are the main source of income for the people of eastern Sudan. El Sayegh argued that privatisation of the port directly affects their lives.

In a statement, the National Umma Party's Secretary General described the contract with the Philippine company a crime of corruption and violation of sovereignty, describing it as a mysterious contract that lacks transparency and a suspicious deal.

ICTSI has not yet replied to Radio Dabanga's repeated enquiries about their position on the issue.

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