by Staff Writers
Buenos Aires (UPI) May 9, 2012
Argentina's fisheries industry is at risk from a tough government line that has blocked a possible compromise in a dispute with the labor unions.
Industrial action by maritime union workers demanding wage and benefit increases shut down fishery operations in Mar del Plata, about 240 miles south of Buenos Aires, and in the southern Patagonian ports.
Neither the government nor fisheries industry officials could reveal losses resulting from the stoppage, but industry analysts said the loss of earnings -- both by workers and exporters -- ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The maritime workers want the government and their employers to join in a new round of talks on salaries and benefits. Neither the government nor the employers in the fisheries industries have been forthcoming in trying to seek a compromise.
The employers in particular are reluctant to get into any sort of negotiations because they feel vulnerable, having skipped mandatory payments to pension funds and other government dues. Huge penalties are likely to be slapped on some of the employers that have flouted regulations and also ignored workers' demands.
Union representatives said all fish would remain indefinitely in Argentina. "Not a single kilo will be shipped because workers are not going to subsidize with their effort and sacrifice the exporting companies," a union statement said.
The fisheries crisis is a repeat of a deadlock in 2008 and huge quantities of the fisheries cargo remain docked, with no sign of a breakthrough. Most fish supplies meant for export will have to be disposed of, resulting in huge losses to the traders.
Union leaders said they would guard against any attempt by employers to try and export merchandise from Montevideo, Uruguay. Some exporters have had their cargo sent by truck to Montevideo.
The Argentine Navigation Center, which brings together several maritime agencies, has written to the Transport and Port authorities warning the whole foreign trade of Argentina has fallen hostage to a labor dispute.
Officials said the problems were caused mainly by retired fishing crews who hold a grudge against the Labor Ministry over wages, pensions and other longstanding benefit schemes.
Officials say the problems have been compounded by government suspicions that some of the fishery containers are used for smuggling contraband drugs.
However, the problem resulting from the stoppages is especially severe in Mar del Plata, which processes about 70 percent of Argentina's catch. Most of Argentina's catch is exported and earns the country more than $1.4 billion a year. Meanwhile, Uruguay's fisheries exports rose 20 percent in 2011 with Brazil, China and Nigeria as the main markets.
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