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Strike brings more disruption to Chilean salmon plants

Workers at the Yadran processing plant. Photo: Yadran.
Workers at the Yadran processing plant. Photo: Yadran.

Some salmon processing plants in Chile were closed again earlier this week during a one-day general strike against widening levels of inequality in the country.

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Salmon plants in Quellón, the processing hub on the island of Chiloé, and in the port town of Calbuco on the mainland, have been closed intermittently because of civil unrest, but appeared to be getting back to normal last week.

On Tuesday, however, managers at several plants in Quellón decided to suspend operations ahead of a protest march in the commune.

Marta Oyarzo: Situation quiet in Quellón.
Marta Oyarzo: Situation quiet in Quellón.

Peaceful demonstrations

Union official Marta Oyarzo, spokesperson for the National Coordinator of the Salmon Industry and Related Branches, said the situation was quiet in Quellón, without the roadblocks and barricades of previous weeks, but that processing plants were closed by 10am on Tuesday ahead of the march at 11am.

Yadran suspended operations from 10am until 4pm, Marine Farm from 8am to 4pm, AquaChile from 10am to 4pm, and Surprocess from 9pm Monday until 2pm on Tuesday, to allow workers to take part in peaceful demonstrations and also take shelter from any disturbance.

Gastón Cortez, general manager of Salmones Austral, said that the company closed its Quellón plant during the day on Tuesday, because “for us, the safety of workers comes first”.   

Night shift cancelled

The president of the Multisindical of Salmon Workers Related Branches and Fisheries, Alejandro Santibáñez, said his members joined the marches and different activities taking place in Chile, “understanding that the demands of society are transversal, and that is why they made the decision of mobilising without flags, so as not to confuse the interests of the country with those of a particular union or union group”.

In Calbuco, the president of the union No.3 of Aguas Claras, Miriam Chavez, said that although the situation has been normal, companies were regularly evaluating the situation day by day to make decisions that protect the safety of shift workers.

As such, the AquaChile processing plant in Calbuco cancelled a night shift on Tuesday to protect its workers following reports of a barricade in the area near its operation, said Chávez.

‘Work and task’ contracts

Salmon processing in Quellón began a return to normality last week ago after an agreement was signed between representatives of workers, of the municipality, of the directive of the student movement which has been leading protests, the Los Lagos economy minister, executives of the producing companies and producers’ organisation SalmonChile.

The agreement includes:

  • Workers having active participation in talks about improving conditions for Chileans.
  • The formation of a labour table, or forum, in Quellón, composed of unions and companies, where the alleged misuse of so-called “work and task” casual contracts by salmon producers and subcontractors will be reviewed.
  • The establishment of a public-private labour safety table in the province, led by the Ministry of Labour.

Processing workers have had a difficult few weeks, with many needing to work to support their families despite having their own grievances against employment conditions. In some cases protesters, including workers from other processing plants, have invaded salmon plants to evict those who were still working.

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