Lock worker strikes on German river canal systems hit shipping

Bonn (Platts)--8 Jul 2013 644 am EDT/1044 GMT

Strikes by union-organized lock workers on several key German waterway canal systems began at 0600 CET (0400 GMT) Monday morning, halting barge traffic through the systems, a spokesman at German service workers' union Ver.di, which called for the strikes, said Monday morning.

The first strikes block shipping from the German Rhine through all important tributary and connecting waterway canal systems in the northwestern German state of North Rhine-Westphalia which borders the Netherlands and in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg which borders with Switzerland, the Alp source of the Rhine.

River canal system lock workers in the remaining 10 states of pre-reunification West Germany are to join the strikes starting Tuesday, affecting such key Rhine tributary links as the Main River-Danube Canal links to the German Danube and the Danube's locks system.

Locks in former East Germany and its Elbe River and linking canal systems to Berlin and Brandenburg may participate in the walkout action later though the recent flood disaster on those waterways may be limited, according to Ver.di.

The walkouts were called by Ver.di to initially run through Sunday July 14, but may continue depending on months-long efforts to reach a settlement for workers with Germany's Federal Transport Ministry's planned cost-cutting reform of the country's aging waterway canal systems.

The strikes are creating major logistic planning snarls for shipping enterprises that have been hard hit by less business and rising costs during the last two years' general economic downturn.

"We're working long, long hours, including weekends, to line up alternate delivery arrangements for customers," said a Hamburg shipping agent.

"It's a nightmare as I have some barges that can't move," said a trader.

Traders said the impact on wholesale product prices in Rotterdam remained minimal for now, even if they fell last week.

Rotterdam diesel barges were assessed by Platts at front-month 0.1% gasoil futures plus $13.50/mt, the lowest premium since February.

"It will depend on how long it takes place but I didn't expect a massive move," said the trader.

The planned reform entails among other measures a reduction of 25% of the country's present 12,500 lock workers force.

The German industry's inland waterway shipping industry's lobby BDB strongly opposes the union strike and the reform.

"The dissatisfaction with the reform that has been discussed for over two years is now to be carried out on the back of shipping and whole logistics industry," said BDB president Georg Hoette in a statement.

Shipping companies are "massively angered," he said, adding that the developments come on the heels of last month's major flooding and the resulting disruption to shipping.

--Robert Ingersoll,; Olivier Lejeune,; Charles Goldner,

--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,

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