Weeklong customs strike to hit Brazilian ports

Weeklong customs strike to hit Brazilian ports

The Sindifisco, the trade union for the audit inspectors at the Receita Federal (Federal Revenue, or customs department) has decided to continue with a weeklong strike at all major Brazilian ports, starting Monday.

The national branch of Sindifisco's decision to vote Friday night to continue with a plan to strike is set to stall even more containers at marine terminals. Labor actions have already caused delays at Santo marine terminals by putting thousands of containers in limbo because they can't be cleared.

The audit inspectors completed a 48-hour strike Friday morning, worked one day and then, got the all-clear to go ahead with a whole week of strike action next week. The union is attempting to persuade the government of Michel Temer to overturn a plan to cut pensions and phase out early retirements.

The Santos branch has not yet decided whether to implement an all-out and indefinite strike or to just carry out a five-day “Work to Rule,” or “Operacao Padrao.” Sometimes these have a similar effect as an all-out strike but striking auditors don’t lose any money from their monthly pay checks.

Renato Tavares, the president of Sindifisco, boasted that each day of the stoppage will cause the delay of at least 1,000 containers in Santos, putting the potential backlog for the week at 7,000 containers.

“This is political opportunism of the worst kind,” said one shipping agent based in Rio de Janeiro, which has been hardest hit by the dispute. “Temer is clearly in trouble politically with the fall out from the Carne Fraca [the Flesh is Weak] and the Lava Jata corruption scandals, and Sindifisco union leaders have seized on this to try and delay much needed pension reforms. This is pure selfish sectional opportunism and is disastrous for Brazil when our export-led recovery was starting to show significant successes.”

The lack of checks and customs clearing is already starting to cause delays and congestion in each of the four main box terminals in Santos: Tecon Santos, BTP, Embraport and Libra Terminais. Another major choke point is Uruguiana, the main border crossing into Uruguay where it was reported Saturday that some 800 trucks, many transporting containers and automobiles are choking up border roads waiting for clearance.

Jose Roque, the director for SIndamar, (the ship agents association for Sao Paulo and Santos) said Sindifisco strike surprised him and his members, as they were expecting the existing backlog to be cleared by early next week.

“We are still evaluating the damage done to container flows so far, so we don’t have actual numbers yet, but it is significant and getting worse. So far the government has not signaled whether it will make any concessions or not. All these paralyses greatly impair the activities of our members.”

Shippers with cargoes in Brazil should contact their local agents to get updates as to the status of their shipments, suggested Roque.