Fighting Privatization, Hellenic Petroleum Workers Bar Investors

Hellenic Petroleum Facilities. (Photo: Eurokinissi, file)

Workers at Hellenic Petroleum, one of Greece’s top public companies, physically prevented potential investors from entering two sites, protesting government plans to privatize the company as part of plans to push the sale of state enterprises.

Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who said he would halt the privatizations, instead has accelerated them on orders of the country’s international creditors, drawing fire from workers.

A union spokesman said the petroleum company workers didn’t want potential investors on the sites and that they planned strikes in retaliation at Tsipras’ plans to break his vows and allow the sell-offs.
The government wants to sell a controlling 50.1 percent in Hellenic, which is jointly held by the state and Paneuropean Oil and Industrial Holdings. The top contenders for the takeover are Anglo-Swiss Glencore Energy and Switzerland’s Vitol Holding.

Glencore officials were scheduled to visit Hellenic’s refineries in Aspropyrgos and Elefsina, about 12 miles outside Athens, on Aug. 27 but when they got there, they were barred and workers walked off the job for four hours to picket their presence.

“Workers didn’t let them in because they want to cancel Hellenic Petroleum’s fire-sale,”, Panagiotis Ofthalmides, the head of their labour union representing about 2,000 workers, told Reuters, using Tsipras’ own phrase when he denounced previous governments for wanting to sell state assets on the cheap.

Hellenic is strategically important for the country’s national interests and should remain under state control, Ofthalmides said.

Glencore was due to visit Hellenic’s third refinery in Thessaloniki on Aug. 28, while its competitor, Vitol, is expected in Athens next week but Ofthalmides said workers will not allow them to enter those sites either.

The government wants to finish the sale by the middle of next year as part of plans to pick up the pace of lagging privatizations which have brought in only about 5 billion euros ($5.83 billion) since 2010, only 10 percent of what the country’s international lenders expected would be raised.