With the help of an industry-funded early retirement plan, the French port of Le Havre is going to reduce its work force of longshoremen by about 30 percent.
The port's longshoremen's union has agreed to the plan, and the next step will be to negotiate gang sizes for different types of cargo to implement the reduction, the port's commercial director, Charles Knellwolf, said in a New York interview. At present the port has a total of 2,832 longshoremen, and by the end of 1987 the number should be down to about 2,150, he said.In Le Havre, the longshoremen's union negotiates with an organization of seven stevedoring firms, two of which handle about 70 percent of the port's cargo.
The employers' group back in 1959 established a fund, with their contributions based on cargo assessments, to cope with the problem of dockworkers displaced by technological advances and automation, according to Mr. Knellwolf.
Now, for the first time, the fund is going to be put to use. Mr. Knellwolf did not specify the actual amount, but said it has reached a "very high level."
Under the new plan, longshoremen will be required to retire at age 50, and for five years the industry fund will pay the retired workers 70 percent of their income while they were actively employed on the docks. After that the French national government's form of social security will take over and will maintain the pensions at the 70 percent-of-earnings level, Mr. Knellwolf said. Dockworkers already between the ages of 50 and 55 will be paid by the industry fund until they reach 55.
At present, longshoremen in France may retire between age 55 and 60, depending on the kind of work they do, and receive a pension under the government program.
Reduction of the longshore work force was described by Mr. Knellwolf as an important step in making Le Havre competitive with Rotterdam and Antwerp. Employers have been trying to persuade the union to accept some such move for the past 10 years, he said. Elements of the program that is to be put into effect, he added, actually were proposed by the union.
The waterfront industry fund from which the early retirees are to be paid was raised by assessments amounting to about 30 cents a ton for bananas, about $2 for containers, and approximately $1.35 to $1.50 for each vehicle arriving by ferry.
With the same objective of making Le Havre more competitive, the port administration has been negotiating with French highway and rail carriers to obtain more favorable inland transportation rates for imports and exports moving through its facilities.
Some truck rate reductions for Le Havre already are assured, said Mr. Knellwolf, and talks have begun with officials of the French railway system.
Construction of two new terminals, on opposite sides of the long tidal basin that is the core of the port, is slated for completion between 1989 and 1991. These facilities will be about one hour from the open sea, and their location and equipment will save cargo ships from four to seven hours in turnaround time, Mr. Knellwolf predicted. For a "third-generation containership that will mean a saving of several thousand dollars," he added. About half of the cargo moving through Le Havre is containerized.
The port, which is autonomous in administration and financial matters, has adopted a series of objectives, one of which is to create an "integrated" terminal, with a mix of public and private sector investment.