French ports are bracing for four consecutive days of nationwide strikes from Friday, Jan. 21, following the breakdown of talks with the government and port authorities over changes in dockworkers' working conditions and pensions.
Dockworkers will walk off the job at all major ports, including Marseilles, the biggest port by tonnage and Le Havre, the largest container hub, on Jan. 21 and Jan. 23 while other port workers will strike on Jan. 22 and Jan. 24.
The Communist-led CGT, the biggest port union, renewed its call for strike action to protest the government's alleged failure to honor a pledge of favorable early retirement for port workers.
Dutch and Belgian transport unions have called on dockworkers in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Zeebrugge not to handle any cargoes diverted from strike-bound French ports.
French dockworkers staged strikes between Jan. 12 and Jan. 17, extending two years of walkouts and bans on overtime and weekend work over the government's port reform, centered on the transfer of some 2,000 container crane operators and maintenance workers from port authority payrolls to private stevedores.
Unions are demanding that between 5,000 and 6,000 dockworkers and other port workers engaged in arduous work be allowed to retire four to five years before the legal retirement age, partly financed with public funds.
The government is insisting any agreement with the dockworkers must be in line with its pension reform voted by Parliament in 2010, which raised the national retirement age for all workers from 60 to 62 and the threshold for full benefits from 65 to 67.
The center-right government faced down widespread strikes and street protests to push through pension reform and is expected to adopt an equally tough stance in negotiations with port employers and unions.
-- Contact Bruce Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.