Dockworkers at the Port of Nantes Saint-Nazaire in northwest France will stage a 24-hour strike Thursday, the first in a series of weekly stoppages at publicly-owned ports to protest government plans to privatize container terminals.
The second strike will follow on Friday, when dockworkers plan to walk off the job at Rouen, Europe's largest grain export hub.
The impact at both ports will be limited largely to bulk cargoes, but shippers are bracing for serious disruption when workers stage the first strikes at Le Havre and Marseille, France's top container hubs. Repeated strikes also threaten to delay container ships which regularly call at the inland port of Rouen .
France's biggest union, CGT, last week called for unlimited weekly strike action and overtime bans following the breakdown of talks with the government over its plan to transfer stevedoring operations, mainly containers, from port authorities to private companies. It is up to dockworkers at individual ports to decide on which days to strike.
The other publicly-owned ports facing strikes are Dunkirk and Bordeaux, which have sizeable container operations, and La Rochelle.
The government appears set to sit out the strikes to implement reforms it claims are vital to boost the competitiveness of French ports and boost their combined annual container traffic from 3.6 million TEUs in 2007 to 10 million TEUs by 2015.
The government has given port employers and unions until Oct. 31 to reach agreement on how to privatize container handling and transfer around 2,000 dockworkers currently employed by port authorities to private stevedores.