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February 9, 2012

Workers at Ports in Rio Conduct 24-Hour Strike, Threaten More

Approximately 900 workers from the four ports in the state of Rio de Janeiro conducted a 24-hour strike yesterday (February 8) to protest the federal government's lack of funding of their pension plan. The workers came from the Port of Rio de Janeiro and the ports of Angra dos Reis, Niteroi, and Itaguai. As a result, activity at those ports was disrupted resulting in delays in berthing ships and loading cargo.

Workers at the Port of Santos in the state of Sao Paulo, which is the largest port in Latin America, decided to hold a public demonstration in front of the state agency that operates the ports instead of conducting a 24-hour strike. Over 400 workers participated in the demonstration, but activities at the Port of Santos were not disrupted.

One of the sources of the conflict is the government's lack of fully funding the worker's pension system. In 1993, the federal government promised to fund the workers' pension plan with a R$ 400 million payment. During President Lula's tenure, a payment of R$ 250 million was made, but President Roussef has yet to make the additional payment of R$ 150 million to fully fund the system. In addition to the R$ 150 million that was not paid, union leaders claim that the entire pension system is underfunded by at least R$ 4 billion. Approximately 70% of the workers in the pension system are based out of the Port of Santos with a total union membership of 10,800 workers of which, 6,800 are retired.

If the government does not resolve the situation quickly and fully fund the system, union leaders say they plan to conduct a general strike at all of the Brazilian ports on February 23rd. Such a nationwide strike could disrupt shipments of agricultural commodities such as soybeans, corn, coffee, and sugar that are vital to Brazil's balance of payments.