Polish shipyard workers protest outside EU building

25th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

About 100 Polish trade union workers are demanding that EU officials retract threats to force closure of ailing shipyards.

25 June 2008

BRUSSELS - Polish trade union workers demonstrated outside EU headquarters Wednesday demanding officials move away from threats to force the closure of three ailing shipyards.

Around 100 people took part in a noisy protest to try to sway the European Commission not to rule against Polish subsidies given to the shipyards in Gdynia, Szczecin and Gdansk in recent years.

The docks have played a significant role in Poland, especially Gdansk, the birthplace of the Solidarity labour union movement, which launched the nation's peaceful anti-communist revolt in the 1980s.

EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has given the Polish government until Thursday to present a credible restructuring plan that will limit distortion to competition and ensure the long-term viability of the shipyards.

The EU executive began investigating the subsidies in June 2005, but must yet see a plan to guarantee the yards' viability and end subsidies that harm rivals.

Her office said Kroes met with representatives of unions to stress that any plan must not violate state aid rules.

If Warsaw ignores the request, the EU can order it to claim back from the yards all the subsidies they have received - an order bound to run into hundreds of millions of euros.

Kroes made clear that unless Polish restructuring plans comply in full with EU demands "she would have no option but to propose ... negative decisions concerning the aid granted to the yards and to require the repayment of the state aid received."

Last summer, Polish dockworkers protested outside EU headquarters in Brussels against closing two of the Gdansk yard's three slipways, saying that would put more than 1,000 workers - a third of the work force - out of jobs.

Restructuring the yards, EU officials said, means putting them under new, private ownership and reducing capacity by selling off assets that are not essential.

[AP / Expatica]

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