French Ports Cut Deal to Avert Strike

French Ports Cut Deal to Avert Strike

French dockworkers called off their six-week campaign of rolling strikes Feb. 18 after reaching an agreement with port employers over early retirement.

The CGT union announced a deal had been struck after four days of negotiations and said it would end the strikes that have seriously disrupted French ports since the beginning of the year as dockworkers, crane operators and other port workers walked out.

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The CGT, the main dockworker union, appears to have made a major concession by accepting two years early retirement for dockworkers and not the four years it has demanded for several months.

The union claimed victory, however, in getting official recognition of the arduous nature of dock work that entitles up to 6,000 port workers to take early retirement.

The CGT said the agreement included additional measures to address the issue of arduous work but did not give details.

Dockworkers started rolling strikes on Jan. 3, escalating to four successive four-day stoppages that are estimated to have reduced cargo traffic by as much as 40 percent and resulted in the cancellation of 50 scheduled calls by container ships at Le Havre, the nation's top box hub.

The agreement appears to be a vindication of the government's hard line stance in limiting early retirement to two years in the face of union threats of an all-out strike that would cripple French ports.

The center-right government faced down months of strikes, overtime and weekend work bans and go-slows in 2008 to push through its port reform program aimed at restoring the competitiveness of French ports.

-- Contact Bruce Barnard at brucebarnard47@hotmail.com.