© Reuters. A fishing vessel passes a truck amid soaring fuel and operating costs and a transport strike in the Basque port of Ondarroa, Spain, March 23, 2022. REUTERS/Vincent West
By Horaci Garcia and Christina Thykjaer
MADRID (Reuters) – Furlough schemes may need to be introduced if a transport strike that is creating shortages of fresh produce continues, Spanish retail and food industry associations warned on Wednesday, cranking up pressure on the government to find a solution.
The strike has spread since a loose group of drivers and small truck owners began blocking roads and ports last week in response to soaring fuel costs that have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Three major transport associations joined the walkout after the government proposed a 500 million euro ($550.45 million) aid package on Monday that drivers quickly dismissed as insufficient to offset soaring diesel prices.
“As the strike lengthens it is clear that there will be no choice but to use this (furlough) tool,” Jose Maria Bonmati, head of the AECOC business association, told a press conference.
Long columns of trucks crawled down Spanish highways on Wednesday and, in a sign of the unease spreading to other sectors, Barcelona taxi drivers joined the protest.
“I have no idea if it’s the war…Prices had already started to rise before,” said Tito Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Elite taxi union. “What cannot be (however) is that a taxi driver goes out into the streets and it costs him money to work.”
Most of Spain’s fishing fleet also suspended operations ahead of a meeting with Fisheries Minister Luis Planas later on Wednesday.
“We need 24,000 euros per week for fuel, and if the boat is making around 30 or 34,000, it’s not worth it as there is insurance and other things to pay,” said Ramon Alonso Maneiro, a fisherman in the Basque port of Ondarroa.
Spain’s main business association, CEOE, urged the government to clarify its plans to tackle rising energy costs and end the blockades, which have forced some companies to partially halt production and led to shortages of some products.
“It is difficult to understand…why more forceful and swift action has not been adopted,” it said, arguing that France, Italy and Portugal had already announced measures.
Acknowledging some shortages, retailers said food supplies were guaranteed and urged consumers not to panic buy, while pressing authorities for a solution.
With tensions rising, the government has called a meeting with transport associations on Thursday.
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