Buenos Aires customs officers’ one-day job action hits shippers

Buenos Aires customs officers’ one-day job action hits shippers

DP World Argentina Terminal.

Shippers in Argentina, hit Friday by a one-day customs officers' strike in Buenos Aires, had breathed a momentary sigh of relief this week, after truck drivers accepted a 19 percent pay increase and did not strike. (Above: The DP World Argentina Rio de la Plata Terminal.) Photo credit: Rob Ward.

Argentina's shippers Friday encountered delays as a 24-hour strike/shutdown by customs officers commenced at the port of Puerto Nuevo in Buenos Aires, through which passes more than 90 percent of all Argentina’s container trade, totaling about 1.4 million TEU in 2017, according to the Centro de Navegacion in Buenos Aires.

The Centro de Navegacion represents a variety of shipping interests in the South American country, including all carriers and shipping agencies.

Export sectors likely to be affected by the customs officers' job action include beef, chicken, pork, and wine exports. Soybean exports, one of Argentina’s major export revenue generators, also will be affected at the port of Rosario, officials said.

Earlier, shippers in Argentina had breathed a momentary sigh of relief this week, after truck drivers accepted a 19 percent pay increase — instead of the 27 percent raise they sought — and went back to work, thereby preventing a 'Brazilian copycat strike/blockade' that would have crippled Argentina for days.

Further complicating matters, beneficial cargo owners Monday dealt with a general strike organized by the Argentinian General Labor Confederation (CGT), which caused severe disruptions to all transport systems in all major cities. The CGT stated that this strike was necessary to warn that many of the austerity measures of the market-friendly Macri administration were not acceptable and must be curtailed.

Cites Marci administration's austerity plan

Hugo Moyano, the 74-year-old leader of CGT and his son Pablo Moyano, who heads the main truckers union (Federacion Nacional do Trabajadores Camioneros), warned that the Macri administration's austerity measures — which increased after the International Monetary Fund granted Argentina a $50 billion assistance package tied to conditions — would be regularly opposed by his members.

Moyano said his group is standing up for workers’ rights and for the lower paid, in general, and said additional general strikes could follow, possibly as soon as next week.

Gustavo Herrenu, the director for legal affairs for the Centro de Navegacion (CDN), said Buenos Aires and the rest of the country were “completely dead” on Monday, with major roads into the capital city blockaded by trucks and other vehicles and vessels were mostly stuck at berth in Buenos Aires’ two main ports: Puerto Nuevo (which hosts three container terminals) and Dock Sul (which hosts one, in Exolgan), with very little movement.

“When the customs [officers] go on strike the port cannot operate so there will be zero activity,” said Herrenu, who has been with CDN for more than 10 years. “Argentina is an exporting nation, so this will hurt the economy. We are a major grain exporter, so many ships were waiting at anchor on Monday and will do so again, but they are used to waiting during the peak seasons. With container vessels they can be operated in the port terminals but will not get customs clearance."  

Pay raise amount — complex formula

One shipping consultant based in Buenos Aires, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, said that the trade unions became very powerful during the Kirchner administrations, especially former president Cristina Kirchner's administration (2007 to 2015), and will not accept pay raises under the “unofficial” inflation rate, which is currently about 20 percent to 27 percent. The government's official estimate is that the inflation rate is “under 20 percent.” The consultant, and another Buenos Aires-based expert with knowledge of Argentina's complicated pay disputes, stated that the actual raise for the truckers was closer to 25 percent, after factoring in several add-ons — social benefits, overtime payments, and meal allowances, etc.

However, this information was not widely distributed because it impedes the government's policy of trying to persuade other industry and transport sectors to accept pay increases below 20 percent.

“All these negotiations are carried out in a very opaque way,” the shipping consultant told JOC.com. “The unions are much too powerful in Argentina and usually get what they want. However, at some stage some sectors have to accept pay rises below 20 percent or the inflation rate will run away and become hyperinflation. Argentina always thinks it can live beyond its means but this is short-sighted. The government needs to reduce its budget deficit but no one is accepting some kind of pay restraint and that they must live within their means.”

Hyperinflation crippled the country back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with rates averaging 300 percent per year and at times rocketing to more than 1,000 percent per year. Inflation declined substantially after the peso was pegged to the US dollar in 1991 and remained at tolerable levels for a decade.

Contact Rob Ward at rcward788@btinternet.com.