MADRID – Since Monday 14 March, self-employed truck drivers and SMEs in the Spanish transport sector have been on strike. The consequences of this are noticeable in different parts of Spain. Empty store shelves, increased prices, riots, and forced closures.
An end to the strike is not yet in sight. The Platform for the Defense of the Freight Transport Sector has declared the strike for an indefinite period on 14 March. The sector is protesting against the high fuel prices and the poor working conditions for the affiliated truck drivers.
This strike is not supported by the major carrier organizations in Spain. This has led to 29 arrests and 332 incidents since the start of the strike. This mainly concerns pickets that try to prevent – sometimes with the use of force – drivers from driving anyway.
The Spanish Ministry of the Interior has therefore put together an additional security unit of 23,600 officers from the Guardia Civil and the National Police to guarantee the transport of essential products. This does not alter the fact that there are already shortages in wholesale markets such as MercaMadrid, MeraBarna (Barcelona), and MercaSevilla.
A transport strike is never convenient, but the timing is now very bad. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, there has been a shortage of raw materials from those two countries, such as grains and sunflower oil. Spain imports a quarter of its sunflower oil from Ukraine. The emerging scarcity now mainly affects the canning industry in northwestern Spain. The industrial confectionery sector, the so-called ‘bollería’, can only produce for a limited period.
In addition, energy prices have risen so sharply in recent months that some food manufacturers have had to cease their activities. For example, there are many fishing boats that no longer sail. The diesel price is so high that the value of the catch no longer covers the costs.
Due to the strike, countless products from the field, tree, sea, or factory no longer end up on the consumer’s tables. MercaMadrid is Spain’s largest food distribution center and the newspaper El País reports that there are 27% fewer trucks than a week ago. Anyone who can still obtain food will notice that it is becoming more expensive every day. The price of products from the Iberian pig has already risen by 25% in a week and that of beef by 30%.
At MeraBarna, the wholesale market in Barcelona, everything has become 5 cents per kilo more expensive in 15 days. Transport is more expensive, the electricity price continues to rise and fruit and vegetables no longer arrive here from Andalucia. The umbrella association of this market estimates that especially scarce products will rise in price by 10%.
Consequences of strike for farmers
The newspaper 20Minutos writes that many farmers are already forced to throw away their products. It concerns perishable goods such as strawberries and courgettes. If they don’t reach the end-user soon after harvest, there’s nothing left to do but throw them away. Leaving the harvest on the plants is also not an option. The same goes for perishable fish and seafood.
The strike also affects the Spanish catering sector. It is recovering from the effects of the corona pandemic, now that the high costs and this transport strike are throwing a spanner in the works. It doesn’t help that there is no solution shortly. On Saturday, representatives from this sector in Andalucia, for example, already warned loud and clear of the “disastrous consequences” that the strike is having on their business operations and will have it if it does not end soon.
The Federation of Andalucian Hospitality Entrepreneurs warned on Saturday that bars and restaurants are in trouble due to a lack of basic products. President Javier Frutos called on the central government to take urgent measures to prevent dozens or even hundreds of companies in the region from being affected.
The hotel industry is not only having serious problems obtaining fresh products such as meat and fish, now that products such as soft drinks or beer are also starting to become scarce. “We take this issue very seriously. It can’t take too long, because it would be terrible,” said Frutos. He also stressed that more than 250,000 workers in Andalusia will face a situation of absolute uncertainty.
Transport strike incidents
Anyone who still transports products can end up in dangerous situations. Transport has become a complicated task these days and requires police escort, writes El Mundo. In Andalucia, a helicopter, seven Guardia Civil cars, and traffic officers have been mobilised to escort a truck convoy of the Cooperativa Agroalimentaria del Valle de los Pedroches (Covap) to the province of Málaga.
The problem, CAEA sources told Europa Press, “is getting worse every day without a solution” and “carriers don’t want to leave for fear of extreme violence by the strikers.” CAEA is the Andalucian Confederation of Food and Perfumery Entrepreneurs. This includes supermarkets of Mercadona, El Jamón, Covirán and Saavedra.
Problems do not only arise in the food sector. The supply of materials in construction is also partially at a standstill. Fadeco union warned that the carriers’ strike is “causing an almost total shortage of materials and has already forced construction companies to stop working”. Together with the “exorbitant increase” in the cost of raw materials and “the increase in energy”, this places the sector in an “unsustainable” situation.
It will not have escaped some readers’ attention: empty shelves in the supermarkets. The transport strike mainly affects fresh products such as vegetables, fruit, and fish, which have to be supplied more often. Many products are not there and products that are there are becoming more expensive. Now there are also problems with dairy products. Ingredients necessary for its production are not supplied. Moreover, due to the strike, the end product no longer reaches the distribution chains.
Sugar, lentils, or flour are other products that are starting to become scarce. Supermarkets also expect shortages of this in the coming days, which may differ per brand. Most brands still guarantee stock for about ten days. However, that stock must then be able to be delivered.
Differences between regions
It differs per zone in Spain whether the shelves are empty or not. It is important whether there is a large distribution centre nearby or whether products have to come from far away. In the west of Andalusia, for example, there were no shortages at the supermarkets of Mercadona, but there were shortages at Lidl, which organizes its transport differently.
The German Lidl chain in the Asturian city of Gijón had to close two stores due to the shortage of products due to the transport strike. And in the Basque Country, it is the Carrefour supermarkets that have been hit the hardest and on the southern Spanish Costa del Sol, Aldi supermarkets, in particular, show empty shelves.
Urgent appeal to the government for a solution
Many of the above parties are making an urgent appeal to the government. It must find a solution as quickly as possible to the spiral of price increases (fuel and energy) that does not only affect the transport sector.
“Responsibility” for the transport strike
On Friday, Minister Planas of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food called for responsibility for the road transport strike and its consequences. He addressed the “group of people” who “perform boycotts and violent actions”, in addition to “disrupting” the distribution in Spain of many goods mainly from the agri-food sector.
“Immoral and Illegal”
The minister pointed out that the pickets are taking “illegal and immoral action” against the work of the professionals. They prevent small farmers from delivering their milk, fruit, and vegetables or boats to go out to catch fish.
The minister also delivered a message of “security and tranquility”. The government and the 23,600 members of the state security forces in this conflict “will do everything they can to make it impossible for this group to block and disrupt the normal functioning of our society.” “.
The Ministry of Transport will meet on Monday 21 March with the National Committee for Road Transport (CNTC). This organisation does not include the organisers of the transport strike. Members are large fleet managers and shippers who represent 15% of the companies in the sector. According to the Platform for the Defense of the Road Freight Transport Sector the remaining 85% are self-employed and SMEs.
This platform reiterated on Friday that it will not call off the strike until the minister has received it. The minister defined this platform in public statements as “a group of ultras trying to blackmail the country”.
“Absolute Empathy” for the demands of the strikers
Government president Pedro Sánchez expressed his “absolute empathy” for the carriers’ demands on Friday. He offered them a dialogue, but also called on them to calm down against the violent actions of “a minority”.
Read more: Strike continues