Argentina oilseed strike cut short after government steps in; new talks planned

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s main oilseed crushers union cut short a 24-hour strike late on Friday after government intervention ordering workers and companies back to the negotiating table to reach a deal over coronavirus pandemic bonus payments.

FILE PHOTO: Soybeans are seen before being harvested on the outskirts of General Villegas city, 442 km (275 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires, March 22, 2010. REUTERS/Nicolas Misculin/File Photo

Daniel Succi, an official from the Union of Oilseed Workers and Employees of the San Lorenzo department, told Reuters that the strike that began at noon had been lifted after the government issued a mandatory conciliation order.

“The conciliation was issued and we abide by it,” Succi said, adding that a meeting with companies in the sector was now scheduled for next Tuesday at 4 p.m. (1900 GMT).

The union, which represents workers in a region where the largest Argentine agro-industrial center is located, carried out a similar strike last week after a proposed COVID-19 bonus payment fell short of expectations.

The workers are seeking a monthly bonus payment for the period since April for working during the pandemic when the Argentine government ordered a strict quarantine and allowed work only of essential activities.

Succi said that the companies wanted to combine the payment of a pandemic bonus with an end-of-year bonus, an offer that the union had rejected.

He added that the Friday strike involved some 4,000 workers and came after negotiations between the parties failed following six meetings mediated by officials from the labor ministry.

Gustavo Idígoras, head of the CIARA-CEC chambers of grains processors and exporters, had earlier said that the government conciliation had been issued, but workers “were not complying with the mandatory conciliation, causing serious problems.”

SOEA represents workers from grain processors in the towns of San Lorenzo, Puerto General San Martin and Timbues, which account for some 80% of the country’s agro-industrial exports. Argentina is the world’s top supplier of soybean meal and oil.

Last week, the group carried out another strike to claim the bonus, paralyzing milling activity in almost the entire agro-industrial center of the area.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; writing by Cassandra Garrison and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis