Agreement reached over Tenerife abattoir

Agreement reached over Tenerife abattoir

Update 13 December: The Tenerife Cabildo has reached agreement today with the abattoir workers to resolve the situation and ensure the future of the business. Tenerife President Carlos Alonso thanked everyone concerned for the efforts put into reaching the accord, and committed the Cabildo to a greater effort in 2014. Consejero insular de Agricultura, Ganadería y Pesca, José Joaquín Bethencourt, finalized the details in meetings with workforce representatives, and said that the Cabildo would work to cover the deficit and reestasblish the rhythm of renovations at the installation. As part of the agreement, six delivery workers from the abattoir will be redeployed in external businesses, contracts which will be possible through the Cabildo’s mediation, and will later be reincorporated into the abattoir’s workforce.

Update 15 November: Tenerife president Carlos Alonso has announced that the abattoir workers have agreed to call off their strike while talks are undertaken between workers, employers and Cabildo to try to find a way forward.

Update 12 November: As feared, the abattoir workers have started their strike today. The abattoir owes workers wages for October, is making losses and, indeed, was unable to pay outstanding wages to call off the last strike: these were ultimately paid by local farmers. This time, there is no money, and workers say the situation is unsustainable, and can no longer be borne.

The abattoir is 33% owned by the Cabildo, and just a couple of weeks ago the consejero de Agricultura, José Joaquín Bethencourt, presented a viability plan to workers to try to save the plant which included, inevitably, layoffs  of up to 28% of the work force and wage reductions of 20% for the remainder. The plan was, of course, rejected, with workers saying that they have to receive salaries in the first place before they’re reduced, and that they can hardly manage on their payments when they are in fact made, let alone manage on less!

Where it goes from here, who knows, but the results might become noticeable on meat shelves in Tenerife’s supermarkets in the not too distant future.

Update 6 November: It seems inevitable now that the abattoir workers will be back on strike from next Tuesday. Once again, the formal notice of strike action confirms that the reason is unpaid wages. Some €50,000 is owed from October, and the workers say that they now feel that it is only strike action, or the threat of it, that will see them receive their wages on time, something that should be normal everywhere, let alone in an organization that is partly publicly run.

Workers add that this time the strike could be significant given that it is in the run-up to Christmas, but that they should not be accused of holding management to ransom: we just want our wages, they stress, arguing that if anything it is the last time of year that the ownership should withhold wages. It does seem that it is “money or strike” this time, with very little room for negotiation: the abattoir workers are more aggrieved than ever given regular recent delays in payment culminating in the latest non-payment, and the laying off of a dozen workers at the plant, and the reduction of wages of those remaining in employment. Vegetarian Christmas, anyone?

Update 26 June: Well, at the last minute the strike has been called off – for the moment. May’s wages have now been paid in full, but given that the second half of the payment was not in fact made by the Cabildo as promised, but topped up by local farmers who need the abattoirs to process the meat they supply, this is not a problem that is going to evaporate. How long before a strike looms again? Indeed, June’s payment together with the normal extra half year payment is due next week, and workers say they won’t think twice about resuming the strike if those payments are late.

Update 25 June: The Cabildo has has paid half of May’s outstanding wages and is promising to make the second payment when it has the funds to do so, which it says should be by tomorrow. Consejero insular de Agricultura, Ganadería y Pesca, José Joaquín Bethencourt, said that he felt “absolutely optimistic” of resolving the problem in the next 24 hours, though qualified the statement with a comment that the future of the abattoir had to be discussed. Workers say, however, that the strike will start as planned on Thursday if the funds are not in place by then, and stressed that although the Cabildo’s position represented “an advance”, it was “not sufficient to call off the strike”, particularly since June is nearly over, meaning another month’s wages will have to be paid. Their position is, essentially, give us the money we’re owed and we’ll work.

Update 18 June: A promise given yesterday by the Tenerife Cabildo that it will provide the abattoir with €200,000 to clear the backlog of workers’ wages has been met with total scepticism. The abattoir workers say they are not convinced by the promise and that the strike will continue if May’s wages are not in place by the 27th of June. The Cabildo minister for Agricultura, Ganadería y Pesca, José Joaquín Bethencourt, says that the strike is unjustified because the payment will be made very soon – depending on bank negotiations. Rubén Bonilla, member of the abattoir’s works committee, however, says that the Cabildo has already “guaranteed” the payment previously – and that the employees were still waiting for it, and so they had no faith in the Cabildo’s ability or willingness to pay.

That lack of faith is understandable, indeed, since Sr Bethencourt’s vague promise of money “soon” was accompanied by the equally vague comment that the future of the abattoir would have to be “discussed” because “one has to adapt to current circumstances”. Sr Bethencourt blamed the abattoir workers for their “astronomical” pay demands and said that they should be reasonable given the exigencies of the market, which have resulted in low profit margins and reduced consumption. Unions say that these “sky high wage negotiations” saw rises in workers’ income from €600 to up to a maximum of €1,000 per month – €12,000 or so per annum. I’m not sure how many would agree with the Cabildo that this is unreasonable, particularly when we see Canarian municipal politicians’ salaries in the tens of thousands  – accompanied by claims recently that it’s not enough and that “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys”.

One would have hoped that in the current circumstances – i.e. in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, even in economically hard times and in a remote corner of Europe – the concept of a decent day’s pay – or even any pay – for a decent day’s work was a concept recognized to be as natural and normal as the sun in the sky. Apparently not. Workers say they’ll lift the strike and return to work when they see money in the bank. I for one don’t blame them.

Original post 15 June: The 42 employees in the Matadero Insular, Tenerife’s only abattoir in La Laguna, have gone on indefinite strike because they have not been paid since January. The workers say that when they failed to be paid in May, and were then told that June’s extra payment was not going to be made – and indeed that there was no money to pay them for the rest of the year – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and so they decided, in desperation, to call the strike.

The island’s abattoir workers are hardly coining it in, earning less than €1,000 a month, and without even those wages coming in for the last four and a half months they are in dire straits, many of them now fearing eviction because they have got behind with their mortgages. A major part of the problem seems to be that the abattoir is dependent on the Cabildo, and there is no public money. Privatization is a possibility, but sources say that with meat prices so low there is little commercial appetite for such a business. Meanwhile, the fresh meat shelves could start looking quite thin.

2 Comments

  1. This is such an awful situation. There seems to be no end of problems caused by this situation with the cabildo. What can be done urgently?

  2. Author

    You may be confusing the Cabildo with local Ayuntamientos … if you’re thinking that the Arona lifeguards are connected somehow with the situation with the abattoir workers. There’s no easy solution: there are at least hundreds if not thousands in Tenerife in very similar situations. Spain’s economy needs to recover badly, and the Canarian Government needs to stop being protectionist and insular, but that’s not going to happen in a hurry. All one can do is help locally where one can when issues crop up … but short of taking on 40-odd people’s mortages, I don’t know what to suggest …

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