CARACAS, Friday July 17, 2009 | Update
Venezuela aluminum smelters halted for workers protests
Since early morning on Monday, July 13 workers of aluminum smelters in the city of Ciudad Guayana, in the Venezuelan southern Bolívar state, started a strike demanding government authorities to pay wages, to address the violation of several terms and conditions of their collective bargaining agreement and to solve industry problems related to the deterioration of equipments.
Workers of Bauxilum, Venalum, Carbonol and Alcasa smelters and their labor unions participate in the protests that have affected the daily activities of the city.
"We have agreed to face this government that has confronted all the workers of Guayana and all the Venezuelan workers. This is a time bomb," said Leonardo Calderón, a union leader of Venalum.
Protests in Guayana continue without stopping the operations at basic industries
Workers of the Venezuelan Guayana's Corporation kept on rallying on Tuesday, July 14 but their protests were not as intense as the demonstrations on the eve in Puerto Ordaz, the capital city of southern Bolívar state.
This time, trade union members stopped the drivers who carried the workers for the day-time shift. However, the operations did no come to a standstill, because the workers on duty during the night remained there.
Workers held a meeting after 11:00 a.m., where they repeated their claims of increasing investment in the sector and demanded talks with the Executive Office to submit their requests in terms of severance payment, holiday bonus and additional benefits that were discontinued due to the financial situation in the sector, reported Sailú Uribarren, a correspondent with El Universal in Guayana.
Venezuela aluminum output down 10.78 percent
In a second day of protests, due to the critical situation of the aluminum smelters Venalum, Alcasa, Carbonorca and Bauxilum, on Tuesday workers announced the beginning of a strike in the aluminum sector. They repeated their complaints related to the serious crisis facing the sector due to poor management.
In fact, their complaints may be supported by official data. According to reports released by the Central Bank of Venezuela, the output of primary aluminum declined 10.78 percent during the first two months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.
Based on analysis conducted by experts in Guayana (which is Venezuela's richest region in steel, bauxite and aluminum), a plan to rescue the aluminum industries which are part of Guayana's Venezuelan Corporation (CVG) requires some USD 5.5 billion.
According to Henry Arias, a labor relations manager at state aluminum firm Alcasa, the figure was included in a report prepared by a Chinese company hired by the Venezuelan government, through Rodolfo Sanz, who is the president of the CVG.
Aluminum companies will report USD 1.3 billion deficit in 2009
The aluminum smelters located in the industrial area of Matanzas in the Venezuelan city of Ciudad Guayana, a city in southern Bolivar state, will end the year with a USD 1.3 billion deficit, as a result of the gap between production costs and sale prices, which have plummeted in international markets.
This figure represents 4 percent of oil revenues in Venezuela, said lawmaker Pastora Medina (opposition Humanist Popular Front party), referring to the joint labor protests staged since July 13 at aluminum smelters Alcasa, Venalum, Carbonorca and Bauxilum. Workers complain about the delay of contractual payments and the lack of a plan to rescue these plants from an economic, environmental and operational deterioration.
The legislator of the Guayana parliamentary block believes that the current crisis facing the aluminum sector in the region is "a combination of many factors" that have undermined the industry for years and have not received any attention from government authorities. "In the Fourth Republic (Venezuelan governments before Hugo Chávez administration), these subsidiaries reported earnings and foreign exchange to the country, despite their ups and downs."
Minister Sanz asks for patience; admits lack of funds at CVG
Minister of Basic Industries and Mining Rodolfo Sanz asked on Thursday, July 16 the workers and trade unions of aluminum companies which comprise the Venezuelan Guayana's Corporation (CVG) to wait patiently concerning the sums of money owed to them.
The senior official replied in this way to the recent wave of protests and demonstrations staged by different trade unions in southern Bolívar state. The workers complain about late payment of their labor benefits and request the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Sanz insisted on saying that production cost of one ton of aluminum currently exceeds USD 3,600, compared with its market price of USD 1,600. This stands for an administrative burden which prevents the government from answering all the pending issues so far.
He also excused the management of the basic industries. "It is not perfect, nobody is; perfection does not exist."
Carbonorca points at government attempt at politicking against workers
Emilio Campos, the secretary-general of the Single Trade Union of Carbonorca, one of the basic companies in southern Guayana, blamed on Friday, July 17 the government for its attempts at politicking in the labor conflict to turn people against workers.
In his opinion, Minister of Basic Industries and Mining Rodolfo Sanz alleged that the public funs that belong to all Venezuelans have been used to pay the sums of money owed to aluminum-sector workers. As a matter of fact, these funds should be budgeted.
He added that if companies lack funds to pay accrued interests on severance payment, they should pay interests on interests for having taken a capital that belongs to workers.
"It is not a pot of all Venezuelans, they are my severance payments that I put for the company to work with them throughout the year and they eventually pay them."
02:57 PM. HEAVY RAINS. Venezuelan Executive Vice-President Elias Jaua reported that the government is designing plans to support farmers, cattlemen and peasants of the state of Mérida who have been hit by heavy rains that have caused crop losses.