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Shipbuilding industry crisis in Brazil leaves 50,000 workers without a job

7 June, 2017The political and economic crisis in Brazil is having a major impact on the shipbuilding industry. 50,000 workers have lost their jobs because of the lack of orders at many shipyards.

The golden age of Brazil’s shipbuilding industry seems a distant memory. Gone are the days when order books were full after the state oil company Petrobras discovered the Pre-Sal oilfields and the industry employed 82,000 workers.

The situation today is very different: 50,000 workers have lost their jobs. Twelve of the country’s 40 shipyards are at a standstill and the others are operating below capacity. This is the direct consequence of the whirlwind of corruption scandals that swept through the country and Petrobras.

The industry has sought to diversify into new activities and create industrial and logistics centres. Some workers are considering signing up to the Brazilian Navy’s Submarine Development Programme (PROSUB). Although the training programme began with a small group of 32 navy engineers and technical personnel, it has already expanded to include more than 300 workers and this figure is expected to rise significantly.

Meanwhile, workers are taking action to defend their industry and their rights. The Federation of Oil Workers (FUP-CUT) and the confederation to which it is affiliated, CNQ-CUT (affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union), have organized major demonstrations and the “Petrobras is Ours” campaign against the company’s privatization. The campaign has organized a major rally and protests for 8 June.

Since April, the CNM/CUT (affiliated to IndustriALL) has been pushing for the creation of a Parliamentary Front in Defence of the Shipbuilding Industry, which would support the sector’s demands, lobby the government to take measures to revitalize the industry and fight to maintain and protect jobs, investments and the local content policy.

The CNTM/FS (affiliated to IndustriALL) has also expressed its concern about the loss of jobs in the industry. The confederation opposes the commissioning of platforms from outside the country, supports investment in national engineering and the local content policy and calls for the adoption of measures to guarantee the industry’s growth and the creation of more jobs.

CNM/CUT and CNTM/FS members held a metalworkers’ national day of struggle in November 2016 to show that they are all on the same side and will work together to fight for more jobs, defend national industry and protect workers' rights.

In 2016 and 2017, workers in all sectors affiliated to Brazil’s major trade union centres organized marches in defence of their rights, for more jobs and against the Michel Temer government’s reforms. The trade union centres met in São Paulo on 5 June to agree a timetable for action between now and the next general strike.

Petrobras is responsible for 90 per cent of oil production in Brazil and is one of the main pillars of the shipbuilding industry and the Brazilian economy. The shipyards grew in response to ambitious expansion plans that collapsed in 2014 when the company became the centre of a corruption scandal.