Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 07:20:21 -0400
Dockers threaten to paralyse Portuguese ports
Reuters, 19 September 1997
LISBON, Reuters : Portuguese dockers plan to stage a series of strikes in September and October to protest against the government's alleged failure to consult them on a White Paper to restructure the industry.
Mario Salgueiro, executive secretary of the National Federation of Dockers' Unions, told Reuters on Thursday that the stoppage could paralyse all cargo deliveries to Portuguese ports.
He said his federation, representing Portugal's 750 dockers, had contacted Spanish trade unions to seek their backing for the strike and had received a sympathetic response.
Salgueiro said the federation had submitted formal notification to the government on Monday of its plan to strike on September 26, then from September 30 to October 2, and again from October 6 to 10.
"The government has had no direct contact with us on its White Paper. We have no idea how many workers could lose their jobs under the government's plans or when the changes would come into effect,'' Salgueiro said.
But Planning Ministry spokeswoman Vanda Libia da Silva Nunes denied the government had ignored the unions.
"It is false to say there has been no dialogue. There have been bilateral meetings between the government and the unions, as well as public debates in which the unions took part in Oporto, Coimbra and the Algarve in April,'' she said. "The government has said publicly it will not fire workers. However, the number of jobs cannot be guaranteed when a sector is being liberalised, as in the case of the ports,'' she added.
The Socialist government has drawn up a White Paper, expected to receive cabinet approval by November, in which the five main port authorities will be converted into public companies and bidding concessions will be opened for private contractors to operate the ports.
Portugal plans to invest nearly 100 billion escudos ($558 million) to modernise the infrastructure of its ports by the year 2000.
The government has said its ambitious plans would make the ports more flexibile and autonomous.
But union officials question whether the conversion of the ports into public companies would improve their efficiency and say they fear it would encourage the hiring of casual workers lacking adequate qualifications.
Salgueiro said the government had failed to respond to his federation's written submissions on restructuring the ports.
The number of dockers in Portugal has dropped sharply from some 5,000 in 1989 as many were laid off because of the introduction of automation, union officials say. ($ - 179.2 Portuguese Escudos)
[Copyright 1997, Reuters]