Failed Santos strike shows new resilience to labor

Failed Santos strike shows new resilience to labor

A 21-day strike by freelance workers from the OGMO longshore labor pool in Brazil's port of Santos caused only minor delays. Photo credit:

Santos port operations are returning to normal after casual stevedores on Thursday called off a 21-day strike and left with their demands unfulfilled, sending a clear message from marine terminals to longshore labor of newfound resilience.

“We are withdrawing from our actions now, and we will resubmit our proposals to the container companies. We hope they seek the negotiation,” said Rodnei Oliveira da Silva, president of trade union Sindestiva.

The Santos Port Operators Association (Sopesp) rejected the union’s effort to ignore legislation passed four years ago that allows terminals to gradually phase out use of the freelance workers from the Órgão de Gestão de Mão de Obra do Trabalho Portuário do Porto Organizado de Santos (OGMO) longshore labor pool.

Minimal impact

OGMO workers launched pickets, marches, and even tried to invade the Libra Terminals’ T-35 facility but were repelled by the Guardia Portuaria, private security guards hired by Santos port authority Codesp, and the Policia Federal. The lack of success on the part of Sindestiva, a once powerful trade union, is a sign that the group is now in its “death throes,” according to one shipper.

Looking forward, shippers and carriers can expect reduced terminal handling costs and less disruptions in the port of Santos. The OGMO pool has fallen from well over 8,000 in its prime to 3,000-3,500 members today, with 500 of those positions expected to be shifted to full-time workers as the port transitions away from freelancers.

During the first week of the strike, a reduction in port productivity caused minor delays and some cargo to be rolled over, according to one terminal operator, but the timing of the strike during a traditionally slow season around Carnival celebrations reduced the impact of picketers.

“There were some disturbances, and we did experience some delays but with prior notice to the strike and with Carnival coming up we got a lot of our cargoes away earlier than usual,” a logistics manager for a soft drinks company told at the Intermodal South America trade show in São Paulo this week. “Still feels good that it’s over now, and let’s hope it stays that way.”

Casemiro Tercio Carvalho, the new president of Codesp, said that his new team at the port authority should take some of the credit for the strike actions carrying mostly “blunt” instruments this time. “Just two days before the strike started, we obtained a ‘liminar,’ an immediate court order, from the local judge, and this stipulated that any vessel invasions would incur fines for the Sindestiva union of 100,000 reais [$25,597] per day,” said Carvalho. “And we think this had a major impact on their tactics. We were able also to increase our level of security under ISPS code to level 2.”

The increased ISPS code level also allowed for the operator of the Brasil Terminal Portuaria (BTP) facility to build a barricade out of shipping containers and increased water-side patrols from Policia Federal launches.

“This union and its members have lost a lot of power in recent years,” said Mark Juzwiak, the head of institutional affairs for Aliança Navegação and a Hamburg Sud executive. “Now they keep complaining to put on pressure but it never has much effect anymore.”

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