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Strikes break out once again in San Antonio

Chilean port companies and workers reached an agreement at the to end a 22-day strike — but strikes broke-out once more at San Antonio.

Fresh stoppages late Monday night have threatened an agreement reached between port companies and workers which sought to end three weeks of strikes that hit exporters with multimillion dollar losses. Workers hailed the agreement — which came after 14-hours of government-mediated discussions — as a significant victory. Under the deal, more than 6,500 port workers may be eligible to receive remuneration.

“Finally, we’ve reached an agreement, just as we said we would, now we will raise the movement,” Sergio Vargas, president of the Port Workers’ Front (FTP) told Puertos de Chile. Exporters received the news with enthusiasm, however lamented the losses and delays caused by the extended protest.

Fruit exporters were particularly hard hit — the strikes came at the height of fruit production and much of their produce was spoiled or sold at lower prices in the domestic market. “Considering labour and transportation, lost and devalued fruit, we’ve seen losses across the chain close to US$200 million,” Ronald Bown, president of the Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (Asoex), told The Santiago Times. “And to all of this one must add the damage to our image, credibility and confidence among our clients, which will encourage them to seek other suppliers.”

Port companies committed themselves to awarding US$2,730 to all workers who met the requirements of at least six months of activity and a minimum of 18 shifts per month, according to Mundo Maritimo. The retroactive payment is intended to remunerate half-an-hour lunch breaks dating between 2005 to 2013.

“This amount will be paid during February,” the port companies stated in their official announcement published in 24 Horas on Saturday.

The dispute over lunch hours lingers, however, in San Antonio — the country’s major fruit shipping port — and Mejillones — a key copper port — and tensions arose due to the alleged firing of workers in the two ports. “A few problems remain. While we are still working all shifts, union leaders are meeting with port company officials,” Jorge Bustos, leader of United Port Workers (TPU), told The Santiago Times, adding that his organization was “looking into” claims workers had been fired for their participation in the strikes. Port workers in San Antonio held a meeting until late Monday on whether they will strike once more, with local media reporting that at least two terminals decided to resume strikes.

During earlier strikes, violent clashes between workers and Carabineros — Chile’s uniformed police — occurred in both Mejillones and San Antonio, among other ports. Injuries were sustained on both sides. According to the Soy San Antonio website, seven San Antonio strikers were detained by Carabineros and held in custody for six hours on Friday.

The port strikes have not only impacted the national economy, but also caused losses in neighbouring Bolivia. The landlocked nation relies heavily on Chilean ports for its exports and is currently challenging Chile in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to regain access to the ocean it lost in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).

The Bolivian government stated Monday the country has lost an estimated US$30 million with hundreds of Bolivian truckers unable to unload cargo due to the strike. “The mistreatment that Bolivia suffered in the port of Iquique because of Chile is indignant and unacceptable,” Bolivian Productive Development Minister Teresa Morales told Los Tiempos.

In the wake of the agreement Chilean Fruit Growers Federation (Fedefruta) President Cristián Allendes said that exporters still faced significant challenges as a result of the dispute between workers and port owners. “For us this is not over, now we will have to explain why, for reasons beyond our control,

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