Labour strikes have resumed at Venezuela's largest steel producer, just days after workers and management seemingly reached a resolution to a long-standing pay dispute.
On Tuesday, work again halted at the state-owned Siderurgica de Orinoco (Sidor), after Jose Luis Hernandez, the head of the company's largest trade union SUTISS, announced that management had inaccurately calculated compensation payments central to the dispute. According to Hernandez, some Sidor workers are waiting on payments dating back to the company's nationalisation in 2008.
Last month, negotiations between SUTISS and Sidor management broke down. After a ten-day strike that paralysed the company, at midnight on Saturday the union and company declared that a resolution had been reached, and employees agreed to return to work the following day.
“Operations re-started on Sunday with the 3-11 pm shift,” Hernandez told Reuters.
Under the deal reached over the weekend, full-time workers were set to receive Bs 150 000 in payouts, while rotating workers would be handed Bs 200,000 each. The compensation was to be delivered to workers in five payments, the first of which was expected at the end of this week.
However, on Monday, vice-president of Sidor's parent company, Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana's (CVG) Heber Aguilar told the press that although a proposed agreement had been reached, it still had to be approved by President Nicolas Maduro.
“This proposal…was received by…[CVG's president] Carlos Osorio, with a notice that this proposal would be reviewed by the president [Maduro] who is the boss and responsible for the management of public finances,” Aguilar stated.
Now, these figures now appear to be in dispute. Osorio has since stated that the agreed upon compensation accurately represent the workers' entitlements, and labeled the call to restart the strike as “irresponsible”.
Hitting the Hip Pocket
After the first week of the strike, the Venezuelan government estimated that the work stoppage had cost CVG around US$36 million. However, workers have reportedly put the figure closer to US$147 million. That was three days before the first strike ended. Moreover, during the two days of work prior to the second stoppage, Sidor reportedly functioned at only 50% capacity due to limited supplies.
Prior to the agreement, last week Maduro urged workers to end their strike.
“I call on you [the Sidor employees] with the heart of a worker and as a social activist all my life. It's time to work, my friends, all of those issues can be discussed, but while you're on the job,” he stated.
The current strike is the latest chapter in a long history of labour disputes at the steel producer. Along with the outstanding pay demanded by workers, in August 2012 the government's decision to dismiss then Sidor factory president Carlos D’Oliveira sparked employee protests, while other union workers called for a strike.
D'Oliveira had been elected by Sidor workers, as part of efforts to bring the company under worker control. In May this year, the government again appointed a new company president unelected by the workers.