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ARGENTINA | 07-07-2023 15:40

Massive bus strike sparks transport chaos in the capital, angering porteños

A massive bus strike over a pay dispute complicated public transport in and around the capital on Friday, dampening the mood of passengers and causing chaos for commuters in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area.

A massive bus strike over a pay dispute complicated public transport on Friday, dampening the mood of passengers and commuters in and around the  Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area. Adding to the problems, a surprise walkout on a major railway line leading into the capital further added further complications.

As early morning dawned in Buenos Aires, the streets were mostly empty of "colectivos", as buses are commonly known in the capital. Almost total compliance with a stoppage of activities called by the Unión Tranviarios Automotor (UTA) bus-drivers' union left tens of thousands of porteños stranded.

The strike also affected Buenos Aires’ overcrowded suburbs, as well as the city of La Plata (south) and six other provinces across the country, including 

The walkout comes with inflation running at more than 114 percent year-on-year and purchasing power falling. 

Collective bargaining talks for bus-drivers with President Alberto Fernández’s government have mostly failed, even though the Peronist leader ordered a wage hike for the sector. Bus companies, however, have refused to comply and are demanding higher subsidies to compensate for slumping profits.

In a press release advertising the strike, the UTA accused employers of backtracking on “agreed salary raises.”

Argentina’s public transport service is run under concessions, though it is heavily subsidised by the state to keep ticket prices low. Fares have been increasing month by month yet the cheapest bus journey still costs around 50 pesos (US$0.18), one of the lowest prices in Latin America.

"We want to be paid [according to] the government's resolution. We want to be paid," declared trade union leader Roberto Fernández, head of UTA.

Economy Minister and presidential candidate Sergio Massa criticised company bosses on Friday, accusing them of being "parasites of the State" who were blocking "the right of people to travel."

 

‘Lockout’

The government has called a conciliatory meeting between transport employers and workers with the intention of resolving the conflict.

"We regret the situation that has arisen as a result of this lockout, which has a response from the workers when they do not receive the amounts that the government deposited in the accounts of the companies and should be paid as agreed," Transport Minister Diego Giuliano said in an interview on the C5N television news channel.

Friday’s strike heavily affected normal life in the capital, with the Subte underground metro service the only arm of public transport working as normal.

Many schools and public universities in and around the capital suspended activities on Friday, with companies following suit and ordering employees to work from home.

Some 11 million people travel daily on the 388 bus lines in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, with a total of 18,400 units in operation in the capital and its periphery, according to a 2019 study by the University of San Martín. Single-line companies coexist with multi-line companies, with large firms accounting for almost 70 percent of the service.

Further complications were added by a surprise stoppage on the Sarmiento train line, with thousands of passengers left stranded at the Once railway terminal.

Around 20 employees took to the train-tracks at Castelar station (40 kilometres to the west of the capital) to prevent trains from departing. 

Some 300,000 people travel daily to and from the capital and its western outskirts, with the line out of service for several hours until mid-morning.

 

– TIMES/AFP/NA

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