Brazilian seafarers freeze strike action

Brazilian seafarers have decided to suspend their strike action while they vote on a possible agreement worked out at conciliatory hearings at the country’s Superior Labour Court, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said.

The court intervened after the country’s oil carrier Transpetro requested for the strike to be declared illegal and thus banned. However, the court ruled the strike was legal and that the workers’ right to strike was protected by the National Constitution. The judge called both parties to a conciliatory hearing on 17 May.

The strike began on 14 May over health and safety standards and “discriminatory practices that potentially undermined the national flag identity of Brazil’s offshore and cabotage fleet,” the union said.

However, as disclosed by the ITF, on the eve of the action Petrobras/Transpetro sent a manual to ship’s masters requiring them to adopt ‘contingency measures’.

“The manual incited masters to take actions that were a clear attack on the seafarers’ union rights, including: disembarking legally striking seafarers; forbidding trade union representatives from visiting their members; prohibiting seafarers from contacting their union; and even suggesting masters detain strikers in the ship’s engine room casing,” the ITF pointed out.

Some masters reportedly followed these suggestions, resulting in confusion, minor injuries and some cases of reported physical violence, according to the union. Nevertheless, the strike continued, impacting ships’ speeds and cargo handling.

“Not only has the company instructed their masters and managers to illegally attack, punish and detain workers exercising their right to strike, but they are so blatant that they even did it in writing. Fortunately, the judge helped to generate understanding. Our members will now vote on this agreement,” Severino Almeida, president of Brazilian union CONTTMAF, said.

CONTTMAF agreed that the strike would be suspended until 23:59 local time, the time required to inform all members working on vessels. Consultation on the final, pending clauses will take place over the next 15 days. If approved, they will then be taken to the labour ministry for validation. Should the company not respect the agreement, a mandatory ruling would be likely to be made by the court.

Speaking from the conciliatory hearing, ITF Americas regional secretary Antonio Fritz said, “We’ve seen the written and video evidence and the company has acted shamefully. Fortunately the points raised by the unions have been recognised and a proposed agreement reached. Brazilian seafarers are now being consulted on this in the correct and democratic manner.”

“These illegal attacks on workers’ rights cannot be tolerated and we need to ensure that they are never repeated. We congratulate all the seafarers who, despite the intimidation stood up to be counted. We are happy that an apparently acceptable agreement is being reached that gives the seafarers what they deserve,” ITF general secretary Steve Cotton added.

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