Embraport gives in to stevedore unions… for now

Embraport gives in to stevedore unions… for now
Embraport is left guessing if OGMO members will work

The two unions – Sintraport and the Sindicato dos Estivadores – have been fighting the management of the US$1.02bn facility who do not want to hire stevedores from the OGMO casual labour pool.

According Sintraport, this resulted in about 50 stevedores boarding the Maersk La Paz on July 11, which they refused to leave until they received assurances, from Santos Mayor, Paulo Alexandre Barbosa (of the PSDB party) and the port, that talks would continue and fines would not be imposed on those who boarded the vessel.

The local newspaper, A Tribuna, stated that warning shots fired in the air by security guards had not deterred the invading stevedores.   However, Embraport denied 50 had boarded the vessel, claiming instead that it was “more like 18”. (A Tribuna published a photograph of about 18 or 19 stevedores after they left the Maersk La Paz).

The port also claimed that 20% of the vessel had been unloaded, although it admitted that the remaining cargo had to be unloaded at the rival Santos Brasil facility, which is also located in Guaruja.  After that, the Embraport terminal closed down and the scheduled call of another vessel, the Log-In Jatoba, was cancelled and she too called at Santos Brasil instead.

Container Management (CM) can reveal that on Wednesday this week, high-level talks took place in Brasilia between union leaders, Embraport and Leonidas Cristino, the head of the Special Ports Ministry (SEP), during which a deal was brokered allowing OGMO workers to handle cargo at Embraport – which has DP World, Odebrecht TransPort and Coimex as its main shareholders – until August 31, “while talks continue”.

The government of President Dilma Rousseff recently passed a new Port Law – Lei 12.801 – which stipulated that private terminals can now handle third party cargo without using the OGMO pool, because they are outside the jurisdiction of the Organised Port Areas (OPAs). She also cleared the way for more than US$30bn more investment in Brazil’s ailing port infrastructure, with the intention of boosting competition and productivity and reducing the “Custo Brasil”: the extra cost of doing business because of poor infrastructure.

Embraport is claiming this agreement with OGMO and the unions is a victory for common sense but other Santos port watchers say they have caved in to heavy government pressure.  One source stated: “This sets a dangerous precedent for Embraport and others with regard to Lei 12.801, as it highlights a seeming softening in the stance of central government with regard to the rights of new private terminals to hire their own people”.

One manager at a rival box terminal in Santos told CM: “There is a lot of politics going on here and Odebrecht and Embraport could lose out politically if they don’t listen to what Brasilia is saying. There are votes here in Santos for President Dilma and she doesn’t want to alienate the dock workers. That’s why it looks like a surrender.  We shall see.”

Back in February, dock workers also boarded the Zhen Hua 10 – a crane delivery vessel – when it attempted to unload three ship-to-shore (STS) gantry cranes and 11 RTGs and other port equipment at Embraport.  Then in early July, they tried to board the first commercial call, of the Mercosul Manaus, a boarding thwarted by river police.  However, a large group of stevedores blockaded the entrance to the port instead and organised marches through the centre of Santos.

The scene is now set for today’s call of the first deep-sea service to Embraport, with the scheduled arrival at 14.00 (Brazilian time -18.00 UK time) of the Hanjin Seattle, the fourth vessel at the facility since its July opening.

Ironically, the Sindicato dos Estivadores told Embraport after its meeting in Brasilia that it could not give a definite agreement to work for them for a month until it had convened a meeting with its members this morning (Friday) – even though it is with all the conditions its members demanded in the first place.

As a result, Embraport will not know for sure if OGMO casuals will work for them for today’s scheduled call until Noon, although despite such brinkmanship, it is widely expected that OGMO will carry out these duties.