Chinese Ship Seized by Striking Workers at Brazil’s Santos Port

Striking workers in Brazil today seized a Chinese ship at one of the country’s main export hubs, as union leaders pledged to intensify protests if the government refuses to alter its plan to restructure ports.

Picketing workers from the Forca Sindical labor federation occupied the Zhen Hua 10 ship at the port of Santos, Forca Sindical said in a statement. The vessel was carrying equipment for use in the construction of a terminal at the port by Empresa Brasileira de Terminais, the company known as Embraport said in a separate statement.

Port union leaders in Brazil, the largest exporter of sugar and orange juice, are protesting government plans to cede control of as many as 95 terminals to private operators. President Dilma Rousseff has instructed officials to resist union pressure and continue with the program, which intends to attract 54.2 billion reais ($27.6 billion) in private port investments and help stimulate an economy that grew at the slowest pace among major emerging markets last year.

“If the proposal isn’t improved, other ports in Brazil could be affected by work stoppages,” Joao Carlos Goncalves, Forca Sindical’s secretary general, said in a telephone interview. Talks between officials and labor union representatives are scheduled to reconvene on Friday.

While government officials have said the plans will improve ports by increasing competition, labor leaders have said the initiative will lead to firings and worsening work conditions.

Embraport has requested the liberation of the Zhen Hua 10 ship, the company said in its statement. Company officials are negotiating with union representatives, and “rigorously comply” with all legislation, Embraport added.

Open Negotiations

Brazil’s government will continue negotiations with workers to avoid a strike, Ports Minister Leonidas Cristino told reporters in Brasilia today. The government is open to “important” ideas from workers regarding port regulation, Cristino added.

Unions are discussing amendments to the plan, said Mario Teixeira, head of the Fenccovib, a group of port unions, in a telephone interview today from Brasilia.

“Radicalism isn’t good,” Teixeira said. “We are negotiating with the government and have a meeting next Friday. I’m not against the strike if the government plays hardball, but I believe negotiations are more important at this moment.”

The world’s second-largest emerging market grew 1 percent last year, according to the central bank. That’s down from 2.7 percent in 2011 and 7.5 percent in 2010.