Sindestiva (Sindicato dos Estivadores de Santos, Sao Vicente, Guaruja e Cubatao), the largest stevedore union representing dockworkers on the Sao Paulo coast, declared the commencement of a strike at the Port of Santos on March 1 at 7:00 (local time). The strike action is the latest to involve stevedores airing grievances against the port management at Brazil’s largest seaport, and the first of 2019.
The warning for this strike was issued on February 19, after a Superior Labor Court decision on February 11 permitted the Port of Santos to employ contractors to quantities of up to 100% of its workforce, revoking an earlier agreement from 2015 that permitted only a maximum of 50% contractor employment at the port. The strike also provides the union the opportunity to air grievances over pay and benefits. After a union meeting on February 26, the strike was confirmed on February 28, and is in progress as of this writing.
What complicates matters is that the strike coincides with the Carnaval holiday in Brazil. Brazilian supply chains and transportation thoroughfares, like many locales which commemorate the holiday, slow down and gradually resume production after Ash Wednesday. Manufacturers traditionally give employees time off for the Carnaval period, with typical holiday duration lasting for about 1 week, starting on the preceding Friday. In extreme cases, the holiday may even extend to 21 days. Sources state that the port management and Sindestiva representatives willing to meet and negotiate during the holiday is unlikely at best.
While past incidents impacting the Port of Santos have been relatively harmless, this open-ended strike over a longer period without any negotiation in sight poses greater uncertainty. Such uncertainty without a resolution is likely to cause cargo delays and subsequent backlogs. As such, those relying on the Port of Santos as a maritime hub are advised to monitor developments. While strikes of this nature typically make provisions for the unimpeded circulation of perishable and element-sensitive goods, no such provisions have been explicitly mentioned at present.