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Argentine soy workers/exporters remain far apart in contract talks after strike

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Argentine soymeal exports were subject to a 24-hour strike by the main oilseed workers union, but local operations at Chinese export company COFCO were spared thanks to a special COVID-19 bonus it paid to employees, the union said on Tuesday.

The labor group, known by its Spanish acronym SOEA, staged the walk-out to press for higher compensation ahead of a meeting with export company executives and Labor Ministry officials scheduled for Thursday. The government, desperate for export dollars to help the country recover from recession, is keen to keep the key soymeal and soyoil industry on its feet.

The strike started Monday afternoon, halting major soy and sunflower crushing operations at the Rosario ports hub. The exception was COFCO, which recently paid the 10,000 peso ($130) bonus, according to SOEA official Daniel Succi.

“There was no strike at COFCO,” Succi told Reuters. He said the union wants all companies operating in the northern Rosario area to give a similar bonus, and compensate workers hard hit by Argentina’s high inflation rate.

A spokesmen for COFCO International declined to comment. The compensation package proposed by workers is based on inflation projections that the industry does not agree with.

“We consider the strike as a push to get some flexibility from us, but we are not going to concede any inflation projections. We will wait to see the final inflation rate at the end of the year,” said Gustavo Idigoras, head of Argentina’s CIARA-CEC export companies chamber.

The Monday-Tuesday strike did not substantially impact shipments, but a longer standoff could slow traffic from the world’s top exporter of soymeal livestock feed used to fatten cattle, hogs and poultry from Europe to Southeast Asia.

The union said it would hold fast in contract talks.

“The offer from companies is far from what we are asking,” union official Succi told Reuters.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Maximilian Heath; Editing by Cynthia Osterman