Airport workers in Rio de Janeiro declare 24-hour strike

Check-in counter clerks, baggage handlers and janitorial staff vote to strike starting at midnight

Workers at three of Rio de Janeiro´s airports called a 24-hour ´go-slow', beginning at midnight last night, the first day of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Army vehicles were seen being moved outside Santos Dumont airport. Video: Reuters


Airport workers in Rio de Janeiro have declared a 24-hour strike at the main destination for football fans travelling to Brazil on the day the World Cup kicks off.

The move came after a subway strike in Sao Paulo that threatened to disrupt the opening of the tournament was averted.

Even as tensions eased in Sao Paulo, labour conflicts heated up in Rio, where fans are arriving ahead of a match on Sunday between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Check-in counter clerks, baggage handlers and janitorial staff who have been demanding raises of at least 5.6 per cent for several months voted to strike starting at midnight.

The work stoppage will affect the city’s Galeao international airport as well as the Santos Dumont airport that connects Rio to other Brazilian destinations

A union representative said only 20 per cent of workers would stay off the job for 24 hours, abiding by a labour court order that threatened to fine unions more than 22,000 dollars (€16,300) if staffing fell below 80 per cent of normal levels.

The airport workers’ strike is the latest unrest to hit Brazil as workers battered by several years of high inflation take advantage of the spotlight from the World Cup to pressure for pay raises from employers and the government.

Some 1,500 subway workers in Sao Paulo voted against going back on strike in a pay dispute. They had suspended the walkout amid a popular backlash and government pressure to end the transportation chaos in Brazil’s biggest city.

“We thought that right now it’s better to wait,” union president Altino Prazeres said, but added that he would not rule out resuming the strike sometime during the month-long soccer tournament.

“We get the feeling that maybe we aren’t as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts.”

The union said its members would hold a march on Thursday morning, demanding that 42 workers sacked during the five-day work stoppage are reinstated.

World Cup organisers are counting on Sao Paulo’s subway system to carry tens of thousands of fans to Itaquerao stadium, where Brazil will play Croatia in the tournament’s first game — far from the hotel areas where most tourists are staying.

Teachers remain on strike in Rio and routinely block streets with rallies, while subway workers in that city briefly threatened a walkout. Police in several cities have also gone on strike in recent weeks, but are back at work now.

There also has been a steady drumbeat of anti-government protests across Brazil criticizing the billions spent on hosting the World Cup and demanding improvements in public services.

The protests that began last year have diminished in size but not in frequency, and have disrupted traffic at times.