Argentine union says grains port strike may worsen

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 31 (Reuters) – A six-day-old pay dispute that is
disrupting Argentine grains shipments could worsen if companies carry out
threats to suspend workers, a trade unionist said on Monday.

The strike, which has paralyzed soy-crushing plants and port terminals
in the northern Rosario area, has boosted U.S. corn and soy futures
although the impact has been limited because export activity is light at
this time of the year.

Argentina is one of world’s biggest suppliers of soy, corn and wheat.

Exporters affected by the protest were due to meet soy-crushing
workers’ representatives at the Labor Ministry later Monday.

The strikers account for only about 13 percent of the workforce in the
affected ports, but soy crushers — who make up the remaining 87 percent —
have not been going to work because they do not want to cross the picket
lines.

They accuse the grains export companies of threatening to suspend them
if they stay away from the plants, increasing tensions between the
different trade unions.

“We’re going to ask them not to suspend people, or take away their
jobs. If that were to happen there’ll be clashes,” Pablo Reguera,
secretary-general of the San Lorenzo oilseed-crushers’ union, told Reuters
before Monday’s meeting.

Walter Cabrera, secretary general of the San Lorenzo branch of the CGT,
which is leading the strike, said a deal to end the protest appeared
remote.

“We can’t resolve it because there’s no dialogue,” he told local radio.
“Any drastic measure by the soy crushers is going to make things worse
because we’re not going to call off the strike.”

He added, “The answer is to sit down and talk, but if the company
bosses don’t do that, we won’t reach a deal.”

Violent incidents and signs that a deal is remote could increase the
effect of the strike on global grains markets.

U.S. soy futures SH1 were up 7 cents per bushel, getting support from
the strike as well as firmer crude oil prices and a weaker dollar. Corn
CH1 was also higher.

Industry analysts say the impact on already high global food prices
would have been much bigger if farmers had started gathering corn and soy
crops. Harvesting is not due to start in earnest until late next month.

“This is off-season, above all for the soybean export sector. At this
time of the year, beans get a bit expensive so demand drops off,” said
Fernando Botta, an analyst at Rosario-based brokerage Agrobrokers.

“A strike like this in March would cause chaos,” he said.

The protest has virtually paralyzed export facilities and crushing
plants operated by Cargill [CARG.UL], Bunge (BG.N), Molinos Rio de la Plata
(MOL.BA), Vicentin, ACA, Noble (NOBG.SI) and Louis Dreyfus.

At least 22 grains ships have been unable to load their cargoes at the
port terminals in Puerto San Martin, San Lorenzo and Timbues, which lie
further upriver from the central city of Rosario.

The striking workers want grains exporters to give all its members the
same 5,000-peso (US$1,208) minimum monthly wage secured by the soy-crushing
workers, who staged a two-day strike last month. [ID:nN23129014]

Double-digit inflation is fueling pay demands in Latin America’s No. 3
economy and surging global grains prices could also fuel workers’ demands
for a bigger share of the country’s farming riches.

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