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Vol. 77/No. 7      February 25, 2013

Uruguay strikers win right
to suspend work over safety
Thousands of construction workers building a paper mill in Punta Pereira in western Uruguay went on strike Jan. 29 to protest the death of a worker on the job that day. After more than a week on strike they forced the company to recognize the right of the union to shut down unsafe sites.

“We don’t want to keep burying compañeros. We want guarantees of job safety,” Oscar Andrade, general secretary of the National Union of Construction and Allied Trades, told the press.

Mario Andrezejuk Malacre, 47, a worker still on probation, died after falling 32 feet. He was not wearing a safety harness. “We know that workers on probation often feel pressure to not refuse to do some jobs,” Andrade said.

The “state-of-the-art” Montes del Plata pulp mill, a joint venture of Finnish corporation Stora Enso and Uruguay’s Arauco, includes a deepwater port and electric generation plant. Some 1,500 of the 5,500 construction workers are from the Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Turkey and Finland.

“Whenever there is a death of a construction worker we automatically hold a nationwide stoppage in the construction industry the next day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” Javier Díaz, the union’s press secretary, said in a phone interview from Montevideo. “We go out to the streets to inform people about what happened.”

“This time the workers at Montes de Plata stayed on strike,” Díaz said. “Workers guarded the entrance to the construction site to make sure that nothing came in or went out. We organized marches and fogones [a tradition of sharing a communal meal as part of a protest] where we passed out flyers.”

The union forced Montes del Plata to agree that union safety delegates now have the power to immediately shut down any work site where there is a risk to the lives of workers. As part of the Feb. 7 agreement, union safety delegates, previously allowed one hour a day to inspect work sites, will now have two and a half hours, and in high risk areas up to four hours a day.

An average of one worker a week dies on the job in Uruguay, according to Díaz, including 170 construction workers over the last 10 years. “We’ve won a historic victory,” he said.
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