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Brazil Government Tries to Avert Impending Port Strike

By MarEx 2013-04-12 09:05:00

* Union says delay in presenting plan breaches agreement

* Port president doubts stoppage will occur next week

(Reuters) - Brazil's government said on Thursday it will rush to present a proposal to reform the country's ports in a congressional committee next week to ward off a 24-hour strike by the nation's dock workers.

Unionized port workers said the government's delay in presenting the details of the reform, promised to them by Wednesday, breached a prior agreement, prompting unions to call for a 24-hour walk-out nationwide on April 18.

The stoppage would delay exports of a record soybean crop at a time when congestion and rain are already delaying shipments. The government says its plan is necessary to modernize ports, encourage investment and make exports more reliable.

Though it will present the reform at committee level soon, President Dilma Rousseff's government will face "complicated negotiations" to get it passed in Congress, the Minister of Institutional Affairs Ideli Salvatti said.

Dock workers have balked at the plan to privatize some 158 terminals starting later this year because they fear unions will have less control over labor contracts, possibly leading to a loss of jobs and benefits.

The government appeared to reach a breakthrough on March 21 when workers called off a 24-hour strike and said they were willing to let some operators hire outside of a centralized agency, known as OGMO. But now they say all bets are off.

"We had a deal, but without the plan presented, from our perspective it's going down the drain," said Paulo Pereira da Silva, president of the umbrella union Forca Sindical. "The idea is to go on strike next Thursday."

Two sources consulted by Reuters cast doubt on the unions' plan to carry out the mobilization in less than a week, noting the workers were required to give notification through an official newspaper first.

"There will certainly be meetings next week but there's not enough time to organize a strike, maybe the following week," said Renato Barco, president of Brazil's largest port, Santos.

He declined to say whether the strike would cause more harm than February's six-hour walkout, but said some impact on the port's ability to move cargo "would certainly occur".

--Reporting by Jeferson Ribeiro and Peter Murphy in Brasilia and; Caroline Stauffer and Gustavo Bonato in Sao Paulo; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bernard Orr