Iberia workers and riot police clash at start of five-day strike
Riot police clashed with striking workers (video) from Spain‘s Iberia airline on Monday as they began a five-day stoppage in protest at plans to sack a fifth of the workforce in a country struggling with 26% unemployment.
As hundreds of flights were cancelled in the biggest strike yet to hit Iberia, Willie Walsh, chairman of the airline’s parent company since its merger with British Airways, stuck to his plan for 3,800 job cuts.
Workers carrying banners saying “They have sold us to pirates” added to the chaos by blocking access roads and check-in counters at the voluminous, Richard Rogers-designed terminal used by Iberia and BA at Madrid’s Barajas airport.
Unions blamed the impasse directly on Walsh, who chairs the IAG holding company and faced similar conflict with unions at BA four years ago. They threatened to hold a total of 15 strike days in February and March. Spanish newspapers quoted union officials as saying that Iberia’s Spanish management were puppets whose strings were pulled by Irishman Walsh.
The strike was set to impact on the 120 airlines that subcontract airport handling services in Spain to Iberia. More than 200 flights by Iberia and its subsidiaries Vueling and Air Nostrum were cancelled on Monday.
Iberia said it had managed to transfer most passengers to other airlines but 10,000 of the 70,000 passengers due to travel this week would simply have their money refunded.
The strike was called by cabin crew and ground staff unions representing more than 90% of the workforce. Iberia’s pilots are, separately, at war with the airline and a strike by them last year was estimated to have cost the loss-making company €3m (£2.6m) a day.
Spain’s transport minister, Ana Pastor, who leaned on unions and the company to reach an agreement over the weekend, has estimated damage to the recession-struck economy will run at €10m a day.
Iberia said it lost €262m in the first nine months of 2012 and urgently needed to reduce staff levels. “This situation is obliging the company to take drastic measures to reduce costs and improve unit revenues in order to remain in business,” a company statement said. “Strikes … can only aggravate the airline’s loss-making situation.”
Iberia wants to sack 3,800 of its 18,000 employees and gave unions a 30-day window to negotiate on 12 February as it goes ahead with plans to cut 15% of capacity, including on long-haul routes to Latin America.
“Iberia’s plan, however harsh, seems inevitable,” Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper commented. “From its days as a publicly owned carrier, it has been weighed down by personnel costs that are far above those of the competition.”
Gabriel Mocho, of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said: “The fingerprints of Willie Walsh are visible in the breakdown in talks that led to this declaration. Orders from above have clearly denied Iberia the freedom to achieve a joint negotiated plan with unions to secure a profitable future for the airline.
“Willie Walsh seems to once again be following the same plan [as he did at BA]. Set the bar impossibly high. Torpedo any agreements that are reached. Create maximum discord.”
Chinese Ship Seized by Striking Workers at Brazil’s Santos Port
Striking workers in Brazil today seized a Chinese ship at one of the country’s main export hubs, as union leaders pledged to intensify protests if the government refuses to alter its plan to restructure ports.
Picketing workers from the Forca Sindical labor federation occupied the Zhen Hua 10 ship at the port of Santos, Forca Sindical said in a statement. The vessel was carrying equipment for use in the construction of a terminal at the port by Empresa Brasileira de Terminais, the company known as Embraport said in a separate statement.
Port union leaders in Brazil, the largest exporter of sugar and orange juice, are protesting government plans to cede control of as many as 95 terminals to private operators. President Dilma Rousseff has instructed officials to resist union pressure and continue with the program, which intends to attract 54.2 billion reais ($27.6 billion) in private port investments and help stimulate an economy that grew at the slowest pace among major emerging markets last year.
“If the proposal isn’t improved, other ports in Brazil could be affected by work stoppages,” Joao Carlos Goncalves, Forca Sindical’s secretary general, said in a telephone interview. Talks between officials and labor union representatives are scheduled to reconvene on Friday.
While government officials have said the plans will improve ports by increasing competition, labor leaders have said the initiative will lead to firings and worsening work conditions.
Embraport has requested the liberation of the Zhen Hua 10 ship, the company said in its statement. Company officials are negotiating with union representatives, and “rigorously comply” with all legislation, Embraport added.
Brazil’s government will continue negotiations with workers to avoid a strike, Ports Minister Leonidas Cristino told reporters in Brasilia today. The government is open to “important” ideas from workers regarding port regulation, Cristino added.
Unions are discussing amendments to the plan, said Mario Teixeira, head of the Fenccovib, a group of port unions, in a telephone interview today from Brasilia.
“Radicalism isn’t good,” Teixeira said. “We are negotiating with the government and have a meeting next Friday. I’m not against the strike if the government plays hardball, but I believe negotiations are more important at this moment.”
The world’s second-largest emerging market grew 1 percent last year, according to the central bank. That’s down from 2.7 percent in 2011 and 7.5 percent in 2010.
Labor dispute at Colombia’s most profitable coal mine continues
A labor dispute between the Cerrejon coal company and its striking workers will continue after both sides fail to reach an agreement regarding wage negotiations.
The Cerrejon mine located in the northern Colombian department of Guajira is the largest open-pit coal mine in the world and is responsible for approximately 5% of global coal sales. Workers went on strike in early February due to wages they deemed were too low and a lack of healthcare benefits.
The national coal miners union, Sintracarbon, initiated talks with the Cerrejon companies which are comprised of BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc and demanded an 8.5% pay increase for all workers. The coal mining conglomerate countered with a proposed 5% increase, which the union dismissed. Both sides later eased up on their demands. The union reportedly lowered their demand to 5.8% to which Cerrejon offered 5.1%. Nevertheless, talks were suspended by the coal companies on Sunday. Cerrejon reportedly decided to halt the talks because the conditions of a fixed deadline and an alternative exit strategy were not accepted by the union.
“Cerrejon regrets that under these terms the talks are suspended with Sintracarbón until there are conditions for a constructive dialogue,” read a company press release.
Union negotiators said they were surprised to receive news that the talks were suspended through various media sources. According to them, negotiators for the mining companies failed to show up to Sunday’s negotiations.
“In keeping with its desire to reach a fair and responsible collective labor agreement through direct negotiation… Sintracarbon has attended all instances of dialogue which it has been called to,” read the union’s press release.
According to Reuters, the strike has cost the Colombian economy approximately $3 million per day.
Sintracarbon started its strike on February 7 in order to strengthen their position to demand better compensation and work conditions. The union represents over 3,000 workers at Cerrejon Coal Limited, which makes up roughly 93% of the company’s total workforce. In a vote, nearly 97% of the union members agreed to go on strike.
Riots continue in Hebron over hunger strikes
A few hundred Palestinians rioted in Hebron in protests against the treatment of prisoners on Monday evening. Others gathered in force across the region, blocking roads and calling for freedom.
Soldiers responded with riot dispersal means, including the firing of rubber bullets, an army spokeswoman said.
One Palestinian was hit with a rubber bullet. According to Palestinian sources, the man was hurt in the leg by IDF fire.
On Monday, European Union leaders voiced concern over four Palestinians staging a hunger strike while in jail. According to reports, their health is deteriorating fast, prompting the EU representative in Jerusalem to call for better treatment of prisoners.
Widespread rioting erupted in the West Bank on Friday after Palestinians said they would confront the IDF over security prisoners on hunger strike.
Large groups threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who responded with various riot dispersal means.
In Beitunya, west of Ramallah, near the Ofer security prison, some 300 Palestinians rioted and threw rocks at the IDF, lightly wounding two soldiers, an army spokeswoman said.
Four Palestinians were lightly wounded by rubber bullets in the clash. An army source said reports of a Palestinian moderately wounded in the incident were being examined.
Palestinian medics said 156 Palestinians were treated for smoke inhalation, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
Sixty Palestinians gathered at Kafr Kaddum, west of Nablus, and threw rocks and firebombs at soldiers.
Some 80 Palestinians appeared at Nabi Salih, near Ramallah, to take part in a violent disturbance, and 30 Palestinians attacked soldiers in the Kalandiya area, between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
Palestinians said that the IDF was using live fire, a claim denied by the IDF Spokesman’s Office.