By the Blouin News Politics staff

After talks stall, airport workers shut down Chile

by in Americas.

Santiago's international airport. AFP PHOTO/MARTIN BERNETTI

Santiago’s international airport. AFP PHOTO/MARTIN BERNETTI via Getty Images

Almost all of Chile’s flights were grounded on Tuesday due to a 24-hour strike of civil aviation workers. All departures were canceled, stranding at least 15,000 passengers, and only previously-set arrivals and emergency flights were being attended to by the workers. The strike certainly captured the nation’s attention, as the workers shrewdly chose a day in the lead up to the travel-intensive national independence holiday this Friday.

The root of the matter concerns the 3,000 workers’ pensions. José Pérez, president of the union (ANFDGAC, for its initials in Spanish), said that their social security today is “totally precarious compared to any public worker and any private sector worker.” The union is demanding that instead of continuing in the usual AFP pension scheme (where the average pension is 58% of salary), it be allowed to join the armed forces’ social security system (Capredena) and draw pensions equal to 100% of salary.

Referring to the union’s demand, Gabriel Gaspar, the subsecretary of the armed forces who is leading the negotiations with ANFDGAC, said “obviously that means greater public spending and cannot be decided solely by the Ministry of Defense, so we’ve invited the Ministry of Finance to participate.” This led to further bureaucratic delays — and the negotiations have already lasted 14 months with frustratingly little to show. So the strike is not a rejection of an unpalatable offer but rather a protest against the government’s failure to reply, which has de facto postponed the workers’ uncertainty over their futures. Pérez called for effective dialogue that would “fix the timing, participation, methodology, and define once and for all” a policy that “recovers” the workers’ social security.

The strike’s disruption was severe but brief. And the economic impact won’t be that bad since the workers had announced the potential strike on September 4, giving airlines enough advance warning to formulate and enact contingency plans. They scheduled more flights for Wednesday to compensate, and let customers change their flights without penalty fees.

Pérez also stated that after this strike “we will declare ourselves in a permanent state of alert” until the government gives a concrete response. That implies more strikes may be in the works if the government does not reply in a timely manner. This strike could have been avoided, but after learning the hard way, now it’s vital that the government takes the union seriously and negotiates in good faith.