As many as 75,000 passengers have been granted a lastminute reprieve after pilot unions dramatically suspended their planned 48-hour strike last night.
The threatened stoppage, which would have seen pilots working for state-owned carriers Aerolíneas Argentinas and Austral walk off the job at Ezeiza International Airport and Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, was dramatically called off at press time.
The decision came after repeated calls throughout the week from presidential frontrunner Alberto Fernández, who had asked union leaders to call off the strike.
Speaking yesterday, before the strike was pulled, the Frente de Todos presidential hopeful said the pilots’ claim was fair but that carrying out the strike action would “favour” the government and “hurt people.”
“The pilots, like many other labour sectors, were harmed. In this case they agreed to a 20-percent hike for all of 2019 in collective bargaining and with the inflation there is, it is clear their claim is fair,” he told Radio Colonia.
He criticised the government for “politicising” the strike and “demonising” workers.
Pilot union leaders had initially rebuffed Fernández’s requests. “If Alberto wants to ask us for something he will call, once he’s formed his teams and won the election, then he will ask us for our opinions. I don’t talk through the media,” expressed Pablo Biró, head of the APLA union yesterday.
“We were surprised to hear a candidate say that,” said Cristian Erhardt, secretary-general of the UALA union.
They weren’t the only ones to criticise Fernández. Luis Malvido, Aerolíneas Argentinas president, accused the presidential hopeful of “talking for the crowds.”
Apart from the efforts of Fernández, the government also sought to head off the strike, both at the level of the Production and Labour Ministry (which ordered compulsory conciliation) and Aerolíneas Argentinas, which held lastminute talks with the APLA and UALA unions (the latter representing Austral pilots).
Given last night’s twist, the cancellation is likely to be chalked up as a victory for Fernández.
Biró confirmed the suspension at around 9.30pm local time. At an impromptu press conference to the A24 news channel, he confirmed that the Labour Ministry had interceded with Malvido in order to guarantee that the airlines would grant pilots some level of salary compensation.
The pilots are demanding urgent salary renegotiations in the wake of soaring inflation, which is expected to close at around 55 percent this year. Prices increased by 30 percent up until August when Aerolíneas pay hikes so far this year have totalled 23 percent. Union leaders say they are seeking a 32-percent raise to bridge this gap.
While union leaders publicly questioned Fernández, sources consulted by Perfil confirmed that the presidential candidate and his team had held behind closed doors meetings with them. Though the pilots unions took their combative stance to the limit, sources indicated that they were willing to step down after Fernández’s intervention.
The strike comes in the context of a possible breakthrough towards the reunification of organised labour with CTA leader Hugo Yasky announcing his intention of rejoining the CGT on Thursday at the umbrella grouping’s congress in Lanús (attended and addressed by Fernández).
President Mauricio Macri, for the most part, remained silent on the subject this week. However, speaking in Bahía Blanca yesterday, he described the planned strike as “political” and carried out by a group who are against “the aviation revolution” his government seeks to introduce.
“It is a political strike, the logic of Kirchnerism,” he said, adding that he had “never” seen “a union which opposes more companies arriving to hire more employees.”
“These unions have waged war against the aviation revolution we have carried out,” he added, in reference to the government opening up the sector to low-cost carriers.
While both Macri and Fernández sought to head off the air strike in their different ways and styes, this was not their only overlap with press reports last week that a government transition team was already in place.