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Mar de Plata industrial action suspended

20 November 2008. For immediate release

Mar de Plata latest: industrial action temporarily suspended

Tug workers from Mar del Plata have suspended for 10 days the industrial action that had withdrawn some tug services in Argentina’s main ports, in line with a Labour Ministry order that obliges both sides in a dispute to seek arbitration.

Until yesterday tug services had been suspended in Mar del Plata following the breakdown of talks last week aimed at ending the tug strike there. According to the SOMU union the talks collapsed when the employers’ side, made up of local freezer fishing companies, refused to negotiate, saying they wanted 60 days to consider whether or not to even begin talking.

The industrial action is the result of the refusal by Mar de Plata freezer fishing companies to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, including in the talks intended to address the problem. According to SOMU the talks collapsed when the employers’ side, made up of local freezer fishing companies, refused to negotiate, saying they wanted 60 days to consider whether or not to even begin talking

As a result, members of SOMU, which represents ratings on board merchant vessels, tugboats and fishing vessels, would have denied tug services to container vessels in Buenos Aires, Quequen and Bahia Blanca who were carrying fish products believed to have been secretly sent from Mar de Plata by road. Meanwhile Argentinean media continued to allege corruption and dumping of fish stocks as the main reason why the employers do not want trade union involvement and overview of what is going on in the key fish exporting area.

The industrial unrest has been under way since September, when the ITF-affiliated SOMU (Sindicato de Obreros Maritimos Unidos), supported by two other trade unions, began industrial action after over two decades of trying to relaunch bargaining and recognition forcibly stripped by the military dictatorship during the Dirty War. Maersk and Hamburg Sud, which transport containers of fish supplied by the freezer fishing companies for export from Mar del Plata, found themselves with no tugs available.

SOMU members have stated that if the employers’ intransigence continues during the 10 days arbitration period, then they will continue the industrial action in the main ports of Argentina for an indefinite period of time.

ITF Americas Regional Secretary Antonio Fritz commented: “There has been a total and unashamed refusal by employers to even discuss the union’s right to represent its members and the shameful conditions experienced by the non-unionised, unprotected, casualised workforce in Mar del Plata. Faced with this kind of deliberate block you have to ask yourself why.”

“Argentinean television has not been slow to suggest reasons, alleging that thousands of tonnes of fish are being thrown overboard, that cameras are banned from the ships by the companies. Any fisher who talks about this is quickly sacked. One of the issues that SOMU has been fighting over since 1995 is the right of the ship’s crew to watch the catch being weighed.”

He continued: “It is widely believed that to protect these illegal practices a ‘yellow’ (employer-run) union was created. There are widespread allegations that some fishing inspectors are corruptly ignoring offences and those who dare to do their job are dismissed; and even then the fines they imposed are usually not paid by the fishing companies (over 100 million Argentinean Pesos – US$30 million – in fines remain unpaid).”

The ITF Fisheries regional conference held this month in Mar del Plata committed its seafarer union members to support the union. Road transport workers in Argentina have also restricted the movements of containers in support.

ENDS

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