Port Workers Strike for COVID Vaccination Halts Argentina's Ag Exports

strike for COVID vaccinations at Argetina's main ag export ports
Ships are caught in Argentina's ports as union strike for COVID-19 vaccinations (FeMPINRA/Facebook)

Published May 20, 2021 8:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Activity at Argentina ports was brought to a halt as a 24-hour strike started by the dockworkers spread to more unions and other sectors of the marine operations.  Unlike most strikes that focus on wages and working conditions, the workers are on strike demanding COVID-19 vaccinations.

"All shipping is stopped," Guillermo Wade, manager of the Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities told Reuters on May 20. Reuters reported that at least seven ships were loaded and ready to depart while an additional 13 vessels had been forced to stop loading as the strike spread to more sectors of the maritime and port unions. Reports now indicate that the workers are planning to extend the strike into Friday and after returning to work at the beginning of next week some leaders have suggested that another 24-hour strike would be called for May 26. 

“We are concerned about the lack of responses from state authorities regarding the need to vaccinate workers in our sector who have worked throughout the pandemic,” wrote the large union Urgara announcing its plans to join the strike. “Our priority is to protect the health of workers and their families, and we will make it known, because we are essential.”

Sources suggested that Argentina’s Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security and the Ministry of Health of the Nation expressed their concern on this issue. They reportedly proposed the formation of a working group that would focus on expediting the vaccinations while taking into account the “complicated health scenario,” as well as political issues. Media reports suggest that less than 20 percent of the Argentine population has received even a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and that supplies remain limited across the country.

“We had previous meetings with government entities, ministries, ministers, and other national and provincial institutions,” said the labor federation FeMPINRA. They complained that they never received a thorough answer from the officials, “even as the situation was getting worse.  We reached the limit of having dead on board. This is how the decision was made, which is public knowledge, as a way to request the commitment of a vaccination schedule.”

The current labor actions come at a critical time for Argentina’s agricultural industry which is at the peak exporting season for its $20 billion annual soybean and corn exports. 

It is also not the first labor action in Argentina meant to call attention to the lack of vaccinations and the demand by key workers for prioritization in the national program. In April pilots on Argentina’s main waterway, the Paraná River went on strike. Public employees including bus drivers have also rallied demanding vaccinations.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, Argentina reported nearly 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24-hours with its 7-day average rising to 28,000. The country has been experiencing an increase in cases since April and a total of more than 3.4 million cases of COVID-19.