Union Port workers in South America are conducting strikes in protest of the government's plan to privatize nearly 100 grain terminals in Brazil. Last year, workers at the Port of Paranagua (click here for more) went on strike and dragged port traffic to a near halt. Delays for loading and unloading at the port had shipments waiting up to 60 days and held imports of inputs hostage.
The workers, and their union, fear that if their jobs are privatized, wages and benefits will be cut, and working conditions will deteriorate. According to Pro Farmer South American consultant Dr. Michael Cordonnier, "The Syndicate of Port Operators in Parana (Sindop), which represents private companies doing business at the ports, has indicated that they feel the workforce could be reduced significantly without any loss in efficiency. In fact, they feel a smaller workforce and improved technology would actually improve port operations, and that is exactly why the unions are concerned."
Dr. Cordonnier noted that there will be work stoppages at numerous Brazilian ports and it is not likely that they will be easily resolved. In a symbolic move, protesters at the Port of Santos occupied a Chinese ship early Monday morning that was carrying cranes that will be used to update terminals and increase efficiency at the port.
This goes to the root of the problem. Labor unions and workers fear that increased efficiency will lead to cuts in the workforce. With a much larger crop to be exported out of Brazil in 2013, any prolonged work stoppages at the ports have the potential to dramatically slow the movement of commodities in and out of South America and hold barge traffic hostage to union demands.
Photo credit: Dave Pape / Foter.com / Public domain