Loading of more than 140 grains ships in Argentina delayed due to strike

Photo: Reuters/Ben Nelms/File

Buenos Aires | Reuters – Loading of more than 140 agricultural export ships in Argentina has been stalled by a port-side oilseed workers’ strike that started on Dec. 9, the head of the local chamber of soymeal manufacturers said on Monday, on the eve of talks on a new contract.

The CIARA-CEC chamber of soy byproduct manufacturers will meet on Tuesday with the two main unions representing oilseed workers to try and hammer out a 2021 compensation package.

“We seek an agreement with the unions that allows the efficient, reliable and safe operation of our factories and ports,” said CIARA-CEC chief Gustavo Idigoras.

Asked how many cargo ships have been unable to load due to the strike, he said: “More than 140.”

The Argentine government, desperate for a deal that would jump-start agricultural exports and revive much-needed foreign exchange inflows, is sponsoring Tuesday’s talks. The negotiations will be overseen by the Labor Ministry.

Both sides in the wage talks accuse the other of intransigence. “We will continue the strike. We are firm in our position,” said Daniel Succi, an official with the SOEA oilseed workers’ union.

CIARA-CEC has offered a 25% raise to come in three phases through August, when another increase through the end of the year would be based on inflation. Workers want a one-shot 25% increase through August.

Argentine inflation was 35.8% in the 12 months through November, according to official data.

Also at issue is a bonus to be paid as compensation for working through the COVID-19 crisis. CIARA-CEC has offered a 70,000 peso (about $840) bonus while the unions say they need a one-off payment of 130,000 pesos, CIARA-CEC says.

In addition to the special COVID-19 bonus, the labor group is demanding that workers’ regular yearly bonus be 35% higher than last year’s bonus, plus a guarantee that workers will be paid for the days they spent on strike.

Members of the Urgara union representing port-side grains inspectors, who negotiate their contracts with the country’s CPPC private ports chamber, have also been on strike since Dec. 9. “We have not had any dialogue. Everything remains the same,” an Urgara spokesman told Reuters.

Argentina is the world’s top supplier of soymeal livestock feed used to fatten hogs and poultry from Europe to Southeast Asia. But few if any soybean cargo trucks have unloaded at port terminals during the strike, bogging down the sector that serves as Argentina’s main source of foreign currency.

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