20 November 2008. For immediate release
Mar de Plata latest: industrial action temporarily suspended
Tug workers from Mar del Plata have suspended for 10 days the industrial action that had withdrawn some tug services in
Argentina’s main ports, in line with a Labour Ministry order that obliges both sides in a dispute to seek arbitration.
Until yesterday tug services had been suspended in Mar del Plata following the breakdown of talks last week aimed at
ending the tug strike there. According to the SOMU union the talks collapsed when the employers’ side, made up of local
freezer fishing companies, refused to negotiate, saying they wanted 60 days to consider whether or not to even begin
The industrial action is the result of the refusal by Mar de Plata freezer fishing companies to negotiate a collective
bargaining agreement, including in the talks intended to address the problem. According to SOMU the talks collapsed when
the employers’ side, made up of local freezer fishing companies, refused to negotiate, saying they wanted 60 days to
consider whether or not to even begin talking
As a result, members of SOMU, which represents ratings on board merchant vessels, tugboats and fishing vessels, would
have denied tug services to container vessels in Buenos Aires, Quequen and Bahia Blanca who were carrying fish products
believed to have been secretly sent from Mar de Plata by road. Meanwhile Argentinean media continued to allege
corruption and dumping of fish stocks as the main reason why the employers do not want trade union involvement and
overview of what is going on in the key fish exporting area.
The industrial unrest has been under way since September, when the ITF-affiliated SOMU (Sindicato de Obreros Maritimos
Unidos), supported by two other trade unions, began industrial action after over two decades of trying to relaunch
bargaining and recognition forcibly stripped by the military dictatorship during the Dirty War. Maersk and Hamburg Sud,
which transport containers of fish supplied by the freezer fishing companies for export from Mar del Plata, found
themselves with no tugs available.
SOMU members have stated that if the employers’ intransigence continues during the 10 days arbitration period, then they
will continue the industrial action in the main ports of Argentina for an indefinite period of time.
ITF Americas Regional Secretary Antonio Fritz commented: “There has been a total and unashamed refusal by employers to
even discuss the union’s right to represent its members and the shameful conditions experienced by the non-unionised,
unprotected, casualised workforce in Mar del Plata. Faced with this kind of deliberate block you have to ask yourself
“Argentinean television has not been slow to suggest reasons, alleging that thousands of tonnes of fish are being thrown
overboard, that cameras are banned from the ships by the companies. Any fisher who talks about this is quickly sacked.
One of the issues that SOMU has been fighting over since 1995 is the right of the ship’s crew to watch the catch being
He continued: “It is widely believed that to protect these illegal practices a ‘yellow’ (employer-run) union was
created. There are widespread allegations that some fishing inspectors are corruptly ignoring offences and those who
dare to do their job are dismissed; and even then the fines they imposed are usually not paid by the fishing companies
(over 100 million Argentinean Pesos – US$30 million – in fines remain unpaid).”
The ITF Fisheries regional conference held this month in Mar del Plata committed its seafarer union members to support
the union. Road transport workers in Argentina have also restricted the movements of containers in support.