Chilean unions lead calls for emergency aid as pandemic bites | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Wearing compulsory face masks and holding permits allowing them to move in lockdown, more than 20 representatives of the main Chilean unions tried to convince the special forces police to allow them to deliver a letter to President Sebastian Pinera.

Barbara Figueroa, the president of the CUT (United Confederation of Workers) led the delegation to the presidential palace in Moneda, where she was told that she alone would be allowed to enter the building.

“We all or none of us go there,” Figueroa said. “We represent all of our unions, including teachers, metro workers, Walmart supermarkets, teachers and medical staff. We need the president to receive our petition.

As she spoke, the police suddenly started arresting a dozen union leaders and putting them in vans to take them to the nearest police station, accused of disturbing the peace during a pandemic.

It was a bad start for a national strike called by the CUT, which represents nearly 9% of employees. They were joined by 35,000 public service employees, including state television and CODELCO, Chile’s largest mining company. Chile is the world’s leading producer and exporter of copper.

Police arrested union leaders and protesters outside the presidential palace in Friday’s national strike called by the Central Union of Workers [Pablo Sanhueza/Reuters]

The letter, which was ultimately delivered by Figueroa with those who had not been arrested, sets out three key demands.

“We warn the government not to ignore them: first, a health emergency payment of 500,000 pesos ($ 700) for all the unemployed; a minimum wage that is above the poverty line and a freeze on food prices, ”Figueroa said.

While speaking, President Pinera met with leaders from both chambers of Congress to discuss a new emergency aid program for Chileans.

People in trouble

Kitchens have spread rapidly across the country since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment has climbed to almost 11 percent. But so far, government economic aid has proven to be both insufficient and difficult to access due to excessive bureaucracy.

“I get less than 1,000 pesos ($ 142) from my pension. I can’t afford the rent and the electricity, gas or water with it, so I don’t pay my bills or eat properly. And I haven’t received a penny from the government since the start of the pandemic, ”said Rosa Diaz, a 78-year-old retiree, who supports the strike.

With the vast majority of the country still in compulsory detention, the strike had an essentially symbolic impact. Nonetheless, there were small marches and demonstrations across the country throughout the day. And he appears to have pressured the president to reconsider calls for urgent help.

“We applaud the government’s decision to finally meet with the leaders of Congress. We have always said that state support should be for everyone, not just the privileged few. The economic aid program must be strong enough to provide economic, health and social security so that people can stay at home under lockdown, and we can overcome this pandemic, ”said MP Raul Soto, center party leader. -left PPD.

Man walks past signs saying ‘Decent health’ and ‘We demand’ at a rally organized by the Central Union of Workers of Chile for emergency aid and better working conditions and pay [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

To help pay for more aid, the opposition has proposed a tax bill for the so-called “super-rich”. This would raise taxes just once by 2.5% for around 1,500 extremely wealthy Chileans. But as expected, there was resistance from the country’s powerful business sector.

Chile’s most prominent union leader believes there could be worse to come.

“Yes, we have an economic emergency now, with families having nothing to eat. But then, when the time comes to reactivate the economy, when there are a large number of people desperately looking for work, it will present fertile ground for abusive employers, ”warned Figueroa.

“They will want to offer even worse wages and working conditions. That is why we must take action now. “

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