Chilean fruit producers are seeking to establish closer links with port worker unions in a bid to prevent possible strikes as the new season gets underway.
Fedefruta has organised meetings and visits to packhouses to familiarise the unions with how the fruit is processed prior to reaching the ports and make them more aware of the potential damage that strike action can inflict on the sector.
Last week, public sector workers in Chile staged a 72-hour strike after negotiations with the government on pay and working conditions broke down. The walkout, which ran from Wednesday to Friday, was called by National Association of Civil Servants (ANEF), follows similar action the previous week which caused significant delays to trucks at land borders.
Juan Carlos Sepúlveda, general manager of producer association Fedefruta, said the impact on the fruit exports was negligible as the season has yet to get underway.
“Strikes are always a setback for fruit exports, but the season has barely begun so the effects of this walkout will be minimal,” he told Fruitnet. “The first blueberry exports are just getting underway and stonefruit and table grapes from northern production zones will come on stream in November.”
Exporters are anxious to avoid a repeat of the disastrous strike by port workers in January 2014 which brought sea shipments to a standstill for more than 20 days causing losses to the industry running into tens of millions of dollars.
After the strikes the government, port authorities, unions and exporters set up a working group to resolve the union’s most pressing concerns, resulting in the passing of a new law, the so-called “Ports short law” in August of that year.
The group also resolved to find a longer-term solution but this has yet to materialise.
Speaking to the national press in September, the then president of Fedefruta, Ramón Achurra, said the failure by the government to pass a new law effectively leaves the fruit industry with “a sword of Damocles hanging over it”.
Exporter association Asoex has intensified efforts to build relationships between exporters and port worker unions in order to raise awareness of the destructive impact of strike action on the fruit industry’s reputation in overseas markets.
Asoex president Ronald Bown has also called for president Michelle Bachelet to set up a new working group “with the utmost urgency” in order to resolve the outstanding issues leading to the creation of the new law.
“We do not foresee any major conflicts in the short term. However, we’re not ruling out timely demonstrations stemming from the collective bargaining process currently underway,” Bown said.