Conflicts & War

Montevideo port workers march against gov’t, port operator

Montevideo, Sep 28 (EFE).- Workers at the port of Montevideo, who are on strike until Sept. 30, on Tuesday demonstrated before the Executive Tower, the seat of the Uruguayan government, to protest the lack of a collective bargaining agreement and the extension of the concession to operate the port to Belgian firm Katoen Natie until 2081.

About 100 workers marched from the port installations to the nearby Independence Plaza, where the Executive Tower is located, shouting “It’s not for sale, the port is not for sale,” displaying signs reading “Enough instability” and “We want a dignified agreement” and drawing attention to their efforts with colored smoke.

Participating in the march were workers from the Cuenca del Plata Terminal (TCP), the port concessionaire that is owned 80 percent by Katoen Natie and 20 percent by the Uruguayan state, and they were joined by workers for Montecon, a competing firm that also operates certain port facilities.

In remarks to the press, Alvaro Reinaldo, representing the TCP workers, said that it had been impossible “to arrive at a beneficial accord” for the workers in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, and so the group decided to stage a 72-hour strike, which is due to conclude on Thursday.

“We all know that the company, this very day, has given the state an agreement until 2081 with extremely abusive benefits for us, but these (have not been discussed) in the negotiations with the workers,” he said.

Reinaldo acknowledged that the workers are “aware” of the effect their strike could have on port operations and said that, as a result, they remain “open to dialogue to listen to all proposals.”

“If we get to a good collective agreement, this (strike) will end today,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Alvaro Garcia told reporters in the name of the Montecon workers that there are “700 direct and indirect jobs at risk” after the extension of the Uruguayan state’s concession to Katoen Natie.

In a statement, TCP said that “the measure is abusive, it harms foreign trade at a time when the world port situation is in crisis due to the lack of containers and it seems more of a coordinated move to destabilize things.”

In addition, he said that the workers “rejected the agreement shortly before signing it, after seven months of negotiation.”

Belgium’s Katoen Natie last March announced a $455 million project to expand the Specialized Container Terminal and received the extension of the concession – which began in 2001 and runs for 30 years – for an additional 50 years until 2081.

With the agreement, Katoen Natie considers the difference of opinion it had with the Uruguayan state “over infractions” of the Treaty for Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments between Belgium-Luxemburg and Uruguay to have been resolved.

EFE scr/cmm/ares/bp

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