BUENOS AIRES, April 19 (Reuters) – Road blocks erected by striking healthcare workers at the sprawling Argentine shale oil and gas deposit of Vaca Muerta left the local area without fuel and slowed production, union representative Marco Campos said on Monday.
Workers demanding higher wages as they manage the country’s COVID-19 epidemic have been protesting for about 10 days. They include hospital orderlies, maids, nurses and doctors who have erected some 25 roadblocks around the town of Anelo, Neuquen Province, Campos said.
Local media reported long lines at gas stations while fuel-hauling trucks were blocked from entering production areas.
A meeting between government and union officials over the weekend failed to resolve the conflict. The striking workers are asking for a 40% raise to compensate them for the Argentina’s high inflation rate and the increased risk involved in treating patients struck by the coronavirus, Campos said.
“The poverty line in the province is 72,000 pesos (about $775) per month. Most health workers do not earn that much,” Campos said.
Neuquen’s economy chief Guillermo Pons issued a statement calling the situation “complex.” The population “is being held hostage,” he said in the statement.
Argentina is counting on Vaca Muerta to close its energy deficit as the Southern Hemisphere winter approaches.
Some 59,476 Argentines have died from COVID-19, according to the government, as the country faces a second wave of infections. On Monday the government reported 20,461 new cases and 248 deaths. Argentina has had 2,714,475 cases of the coronavirus so far. (Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Richard Chang)