By Lamine Chikhi and Christian Lowe
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Dockworkers at Algeria's busiest port, operated by Dubai-based DP World, have staged an unofficial strike in protest at a management drive to raise productivity, industry sources told Reuters.
The operator said the container port was functioning as normal and one of the sources said the union representing the workers reached a deal last weekend to end the protest.
But for weeks before that, stevedores at the port in the Algerian capital were operating an unofficial go-slow strike, with just a handful of containers being moved each day and a backlog of ships offshore waiting to unload, the sources said.
"I waited 25 days before my four containers were unloaded in the port of Algiers," Reda Rahmouni, a book importer who has regular dealings with the port, told Reuters.
"There is nothing official, but it seems that they are on strike ... They unload only eight to nine containers per day. This is not acceptable."
DP World, a unit of conglomerate Dubai World, took control of operations at the terminal last year under a 30-year operating concession.
The terminal, re-named DP World Djazair, handles more than 60 percent of Algeria's external trade, according to the company. None of OPEC member Algeria's crude oil and gas exports go through the port.Asked by Reuters to comment on the labour dispute, a DP World said in a statement provided to Reuters: "We have been working with the union to increase the efficiency of the terminal and have reached an agreement that will see service improve there. DP World Djazair is operating as normal."
The terminal, in the heart of the Algerian capital, was built by former ruler France and much of the infrastructure dates back to the colonial period.
Long delays at Algerian ports are common, causing supply problems for a country whose economy is dominated by oil and gas and which imports most of the goods that it consumes.
An industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the union go-slow was sparked by a dispute over pay and an attempt by DP World managers to introduce new shift patterns to improve productivity.
The source said he did not know the details of the agreement the union and management reached last weekend. "Whatever the case, productivity has now gone up and we expect the backlog and number of idle vessels outside the port to diminish."
But the source added: "I have a feeling that our woes in the port are not entirely over."
Indebted parent company Dubai World is prepared to sell DP World, among other assets, to help raise billions of dollars it needs to repay creditors, according to a company document obtained by Reuters last month.