BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Workers and management for Argentina’s largest airline reached an agreement on wage increases, ending a nine-day walkout that affected more than 80,000 passengers.
Spokesmen for the two unions representing pilots and mechanics of Aerolíneas Argentinas said the workers had accepted in principle the company’s offer to raise monthly salaries by at least $134 (euro 115).
The airline also promised to rehire some 300 employees it had fired during the bitter strike, which threw airports nationwide into chaos and highlighted growing cross-industry de-mands for salary increases.
Union representative Daniel Biro, of the Association of Airline Pilots, said the protest will formally end once both unions and the company sign the accord. In exchange for the salary increases, the workers will agree not to strike for 90 days.
The end of the walkout cured a major headache for brand-new Economy Minister Felisa Miceli, who took her post Thursday as part of a midterm shakeup of President Néstor Kirch-ner’s government. Pilots and mechanics for Aerolíneas Argentinas walked off the job at Buenos Aires’ two airports Nov. 24, throwing the country’s air traffic into chaos. Some 300 international and domestic flights were canceled, costing the air carrier an estimated $1.3 million (euro 1.1 million) in lost revenue.
Tensions peaked when workers blocked the entrance to Ezeiza International Airport, forcing travelers to haul their luggage from makeshift drop-off points on the highway.
But Manasse Nijenhuis, a 30-year-old Dutch traveler trying to visit Argentina’s wind-swept extremes of Tierra del Fuego, said he didn’t mind being stranded.
“Especially in countries where the division between rich and poor is so sharp like Argentina, I think it’s a very good right that people pick up and strike,” Nijenhuis said.
Argentina’s economy went into a tailspin in 2002, with devaluation slashing the purchasing power of wages and savings practically overnight. Although the country’s economy has shown signs of revitalization, critics argue that Kirchner’s government has yet to fuel larger recovery plans that boost wage levels.
With inflation approaching 10 percent this year, Argentina has seen protests staged by the likes of taxi and truck drivers, nurses and civil servants – and even ballet dancers and symphony musicians, who demonstrated by performing in the streets of Buenos Aires.
The government has said the jobless rate is currently about 11 percent, down from a record high of 21.5 percent in 2002, at the height of the crisis.
But demonstrators and critics say underemployment, temporary employment and underpaid employment is rampant.