* Stoppages confirmed at top grain ports Santos, Paranagua
* Unions to strike again Tuesday, threaten longer walk-out
* Workers protesting government drive to privatize ports
SANTOS, Brazil, Feb 22 Brazilian dock workers
walked off the job in at least two major ports early on Friday
for a six-hour strike to protest the government's plans to
change regulations and put more of the country's ports in the
private sector's hands.
The strike comes in the midst of a record soybean harvest.
Expected delays at Brazil's ports caused top buyer China this
week to cancel at least two soy cargoes ordered from Brazil and
buy from the United States instead.
Brazilian dock workers are afraid a drive to privatize some
158 terminals will lead to a loss of jobs and benefits because
private operators would not have to hire through the centralized
agency "OGMO" and might bring in labor from abroad.
"We've started the mobilization," said Cesar Rodrigues
Alves, a senior representative of the union of stevedores at
Santos port, South America's largest.
A press official at the other major grains port, Paranagua,
confirmed the labor stoppage had begun there, too.
Shipping analysts do not expect major disruption, given the
short duration of the strike. Bulk grain loading, which is done
via conveyor belt and requires little labor, is also likely to
continue uninterrupted at Santos, shipping agent SA
Commodities/Unimar told Reuters.
The Brazilian government says the planned changes for ports
are needed to boost competitiveness as it seeks to attract
billions of dollars in private investment to expand capacity to
cope with burgeoning commodity exports.
Queues of ships waiting to load grains this week were twice
as long as this time last year at Santos and three times longer
at Paranagua, according to data from SA Commodities/Unimar, with
strong demand for an expected record soy crop.
Faced with the prospect of more protests at a time when
logistics infrastructure is already under major strain, the
country's port minister was scheduled to meet with union
representatives to discuss the proposals Friday morning.
Friday's strike at ports across the country will last until
1 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Friday. Umbrella union Forca Sindical said
workers would hold another six-hour walkout next Tuesday and
were evaluating a longer strike.
(Reporting by Gustavo Bonato; Editing by Peter Murphy and Lisa