Brazilian airport workers strike for higher wages; flights unaffected

SAO PAULO, July 31 Wed Jul 31, 2013 12:38pm EDT

SAO PAULO, July 31 (Reuters) - Thousands of Brazilian airport workers went on strike on Wednesday to demand higher wages, although contingency plans kept flights running on time, according to state airport agency Infraero.

The workers' union is pressing for a roughly 16 percent salary bump along with improved benefits such as childcare.

The demands highlight the gap between the steep wage hikes that organized labor has negotiated in recent years and the meager performance of the Brazilian economy, which grew less than 1 percent last year with inflation near 6 percent.

Adding to labor tensions at Brazilian airports, President Dilma Rousseff has invited the private sector to invest billions in new terminals, expanding capacity in aviation infrastructure that had languished under state management.

Infraero employees have decried the concessions as privatizations that threaten workers' rights, but officials say they are needed as Brazil modernizes airports ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Striking workers at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport booed Rousseff on Wednesday when she arrived to announce fresh investments to improve public transport in Brazil's largest city, local media reported.

Marching workers slowed traffic near some airports, but the demonstrations paled next to the protests that roiled Brazil last month, when more than a million people took to the streets to demand better public services and an end to public corruption.

Of about 1,100 domestic flights in Brazil on Wednesday, 15 percent were delayed or canceled, according to Infraero's website as of noon on Wednesday. A spokeswoman said the figures were within the agency's normal parameters and had been driven by weather problems near Porto Alegre, a southern city whose airport was not affected by the strike.

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