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Tuesday, 02 May 2017

Brazil port strikes hurt but could have been much worse

To the relief of the port and shipping community the General Strike in Brazil last Friday did not affect the port sector as much as trade unions had threatened it would but it still caused some problems and delays. Potential investors in the Brazilian port system will see some positives in that adherence to the port strikes, and indeed the General Strike, was not high and that President Michel Temer is not stepping down from his labour reforms and privatisation programmes.

In Santos, the country's leading port with 26 percent of Brazil's port movement and 36 percent of its containerized volumes, the strike actions of dock workers represented by the Sindaport trade union, caused "paralysis and dislocations" at various terminals, and blockades of entrance/exit gates meant that trucks could not move boxes in/out of terminals. The unions are fighting against government plans to reduce pensions, plus increased "outsourcing" of dockers work and yet, at the same time, the reduction in the use of the OGMOs (or casual labour pools!).

Although a 24 hour strike was threatened in Santos, which handled 3.56 million TEU in 2016, from 12am this morning, the union actions did not start until 7am and they are expected to finish at 1900 hours local time (1800 hours US East Coast time) tonight.
Worst hit was Ecoporto Santos, which saw its terminal gates blockaded for most the morning, but returned to "almost normal operations" after 1pm. Santos Brasil, the port's biggest box operator with 34.7 percent of the total port throughput, was also badly affected during the morning and was operating at less than 50 percent of capacity plus it had only one vessel berthed at its three quays.

Sergio Aquino, the president of Sopesp (the Sao Paulo state association for port operators) said that the stevedore unions – including Sindaport and Sintaport – had scaled back the protests to 12 hours from the original plan of 24 hours, and many full-time employees in the port terminals went to work as normal.

"Santos has suffered from the stevedores actions today but it hasn't been as bad as we expected," stated Aquino. "The regular staff in most container terminals went to work but the casual staff did not. Instead they manned picket lines outside and tried to persuade the regular workers to down tools and some did. We also saw blockades in some of the roads leading into Santos and this caused a lot of disruption, especially in the morning."
In Santos from 7am to 9am several key roads into the port city were blockaded – including the roads around Ecoporto Santos, in Valongo district near downtown, but then various municipal police and riot police using tear gas and batons, freed some of the roads temporarily.
All buses and tram drivers were on strike so many port workers did not bother going to work because of transport difficulties.
Various other ports around the country were hit with stevedores' strikes lasting between six and 13 hours. In Rio de Janeiro the strike was scaled down from 24 hours to 13 hours, from 6am to 7pm.
In Rio de Janeiro, both the Multi-Rio and Libra Rio container terminals were paralysed this morning as striking stevedores and truckers blockaded the entrance/exits to the facilities.
"We were working in the terminal but were unable to work on the ships and there were road-blocks all around the port area," said one Rio de Janeiro terminal manager.
Although the general strike was about tough pension and labour reform, many say the timing was cynical in that it postponed, by a month, the questioning in court of former President Lula (Luis Inacio Lula da Silva) on corruption charges and was then followed by yesterday's public holiday.

May 2, 2017


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