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LABOR DISPUTE

Opposition accuses Madrid City Hall of having caused cleaners’ strike

UPyD party says municipal government made a “right mess” of the street-worker stoppage

Opposition councilors in Madrid City Hall have accused Mayor Ana Botella’s conservative Popular Party municipal government of having provoked a street cleaners’ strike that lasted close to two weeks, and saw the city buried under piles of trash.

Councilor Raquel López of the United Left (IU) said on Tuesday that her group had warned City Hall that its decision to cut the remunerations of contractors for carrying out street-cleaning operations in the capital would cause a strike.

The stoppage was sparked by plans of the companies in question — leading construction and services groups Sacyr, OHL and FCC — to lay off 1,134 of a total workforce of 6,000 and cut wages. The dispute was settled after the companies withdrew the layoff plan and workers agreed to accept temporary layoffs of 45 days a year and a freeze in wages.

Shortly before the agreement was reached, City Hall brought in the publicly owned cleaning firm Tragsa to provide minimum services, which the contractors claimed they were prevented from providing because of violent pickets.

A “serious deterioration” in sanitary conditions merited “exceptional” measures

“The blame lies on you, not the workers,” IU’s López told Botella. “It’s a disgrace that you tried to infringe the right of workers to strike,” she added, referring to the Tragsa move.

Councilor Jaime de Berenguer of the centrist UPyD party accused the Botella team of having made “a right mess” of events surrounding the strike and of general incompetence. “After a disturbing period of inaction in the first few days and a disturbing lack of leadership, your conclusion is none other than the conclusion that some workers committed acts of sabotage,” De Berenguer said. “You have spent millions of euros on absurd and unnecessary buildings and you end up saying you have no money for cleaning, a basic municipal service,” he added.

The city’s environment chief, Diego Sanjuanbenito, defended the government, whose action he claimed was “decisive in ending the strike.”

Socialist Party councilor Ruth Porta claimed that “this cleaner’s strike has been a model of obscurantism of information and managerial incompetence on the part of the PP.”

Porta said the PP had misled the public by declaring that the strike had not caused a health risk for the city. The city’s official gazette on Monday published a resolution taken by City Hall on November 15, when it was making arrangements with Tragsa, declaring that a “serious deterioration” in sanitary conditions had taken place that merited “exceptional” measures to clean up the streets.

The foreign press also widely reported on the stoppage. The Frankfurter Allgemeine, for example, ran a hard-hitting article entitled, “Madrid, Garbage Capital.”

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