French ports are at a standstill Feb. 4 as dockworkers stage the fourth in a series of four-day nationwide strikes, which have reduced cargo volume by more than a third since the beginning of the year.
The Communist-led CCT union, the primary dockworker union, claimed solid support for the strike which has closed down Le Havre, the top container hub, and Marseille, the country's biggest port by tonnage.
The CGT is threatening to escalate strike action in the coming weeks as the government, which is the sole shareholder in the seven largest ports, is refusing to cede to its demand for four years early retirement for up to 6,000 dockworkers with arduous jobs.
The government, which says dockworkers can only retire two years early, is coming under increasing pressure from private port employers and business leaders to reach agreement with the union.
Both sides appear to be digging in for a long dispute, fueling fears of a permanent loss of cargo that has been diverted to other European ports.
"The ball is in the government's court … to unblock the situation," said Tony Hautbois, Secretary General of the CGT's docks section.
Transport Secretary Thierry Mariani said the strikes would "smash" the ports industry but he did not signal any softening of the government's position that any deal with the dockworkers must comply with recent legislation that raised the minimum retirement age for all workers by two years to 62.
The strikes have cost Le Havre around 40 percent of its cargo and 50 of approximately 160 scheduled calls by container ships since the beginning of the year, according to Christian Leroux, head of the port employers' organization.
Meanwhile, business leaders in Marseille launched an appeal Friday for a general mobilization "to save the port of Marseille" after years of industrial action that has eroded its competitiveness and damaged the regional economy.
"The situation our companies face is dramatic but no one wants to hear about it," said Jean-Luc Chauvin, head of the UPE13 business lobby.
Dockworkers are striking Friday and Sunday, and crane operators and other port workers will walk off the job on Saturday and Monday.
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