The association representing Spain’s biggest citrus exporters is warning that a planned walkout by packhouse workers in Valencia later this week will cause industry losses of €200m.
The Citrus Management Committee (CGC) said the strike called by the UGT and CCOO unions for 15-21 December was highly irresponsible, paralysing activity during one of the busiest weeks of the season when approximately 300,000-360,000 tonnes of oranges, mandarins and lemons are packed for the domestic market and for export.
“A strike during that seven-day period would interrupt supply at the most inopportune moment, coming in the month when the greatest volume of fruit is harvested (between 650,000 and 700,000 tonnes) and when demand is at its peak,” the committee said.
Moreover, it would open the door for Moroccan exporters, who are faced with a record harvest this year, and could cause Spain to lose market share right through to the end of the season.
The unions accuse the exporters of failing to honour wage commitments and forcing employees to work excessively long hours. They say the packers, most of whom are female, “are forced to work in appalling conditions that have been deteriorating over time”.
The CGC denounced the unions’ claims as “unjustifiable”, especially those relating to the organisation of work in the packhouse during periods of peak activity.
“Citrus packing is one of the few sectors that increased pay in the midst of the economic crisis, raising salaries by up to 73 per cent, and it is one of the few industries where female workers receive equal pay,” the committee said.
CGC added that the strike would be the final blow in what is already an abysmal season marred by low market prices and losses running into the millions of euros caused by recent heavy rains.
The committee has asked Ximo Puig, president of the regional government of Valencia, to mediate in the dispute in order to resolve the standoff as a matter of urgency.