Transport troubles threaten football World Cup

Last updated 13:40 12/06/2014

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A subway strike in Sao Paulo that threatened to disrupt the opening of the World Cup was averted Wednesday night (NZT Thursday morning) even as airport workers in Rio de Janeiro declared a 24-hour work stoppage in the main destination for football fans travelling to Brazil.

Some 1500 subway workers in Sao Paulo voted against going back on strike in a pay dispute. They had suspended the walkout Monday (NZT Tuesday) amid a popular backlash and government pressure to end the transportation chaos in Brazil's biggest city.

''We thought that right now it's better to wait,'' union president Altino Prazeres said, but added that he wouldn't rule out resuming the strike sometime during the monthlong football tournament.

''We get the feeling that maybe we aren't as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts.''

The union said its members would hold a march Thursday morning (NZT Friday) demanding that 42 workers fired during the five-day work stoppage were rehired.

World Cup organisers were counting on Sao Paulo's subway system to carry tens of thousands of fans Thursday to Itaquerao stadium, where Brazil would play Croatia in the tournament's first game far from the hotel areas where most tourists were staying.

Even as tensions eased in Sao Paulo, labour conflicts heated up in Rio, where fans were arriving ahead of Sunday's match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On Wednesday (NZT Thursday), check-in counter clerks, baggage handlers and janitorial staff who have been demanding raises of at least 5.6 per cent for several months voted to strike starting at midnight (NZT 3pm Thursday).

The work stoppage would affect the city's Galeao international airport as well as the Santos Dumont airport that connected Rio to other Brazilian destinations

A union representative said only 20 per cent of workers would stay off the job for 24 hours, abiding by a labour court order that threatened to fine unions more than US$22,000 (NZ$25,500) if staffing fell below 80 per cent of normal levels.

The official agreed to discuss specifics of the walkout only if not quoted by name because he wasn't authorised to speak publicly.

The airport workers' strike was the latest unrest to hit Brazil as workers battered by several years of high inflation take advantage of the spotlight from the World Cup to pressure for pay raises from employers and the government.  

In the northern city of Natal, where the United States played its first game Monday (NZT Tuesday) against Ghana, bus drivers would stay home Thursday (NZT Friday) for at least 24 hours to press their demands for a 16 per cent pay increase.

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Teachers remained on strike in Rio and routinely blocked streets with rallies, and subway workers in that city briefly threatened a walkout. Police in several cities have also gone on strike in recent weeks, but were back at work now.

There also has been a steady drumbeat of anti-government protests across Brazil criticising the billions spent on hosting the World Cup and demanding improvements in public services.

The protests that began last year have diminished in size, but not in frequency, and they also have disrupted traffic at times.

- AP

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