Chilean workers from the Santiago Metro, the subway system of the country’s capital, staged a demonstration on August 19 inside a major Metro station in order to bring awareness to their campaign for better working conditions.
“We are demanding minimum standards for the workers and also for the passengers,” Jorge Ávila, head of the Unified Santiago Metro Union, told BioBioChile.cl. “What we are asking the Metro’s management for today is not a raise. We are requesting that the Metro pay us for the actual hours we work.”
Among the demands being made by the workers are compensation for unpaid overtime and night shifts, improved access to clean bathrooms, and for the Metro to meet basic working standards.
The demonstration on Wednesday began at 8 a.m. with a banner drop at the Baquedano station for the 1 Line. The banner read: “Because you deserve a decent transport, support us! We move Santiago!” The workers then had a speakout where they announced their demands to big rush hour crowds of passengers and asked them to support the #MovemosSantiago campaign. Despite the congestion in the station, many of the passengers at the station showed support to the workers and their campaign.
“Today’s demonstration spread a sort of awareness to citizens so that they are aware of the mistreatment of Metro workers due to unsafe policies,” Daniela Pérez, president of the Unified Conductors Union, told Emol.com.
The information campaign officially began on Monday with workers using the public announcement system on the train to spread their message, but workers have been making these kind of demands since at least late July.
Workers allege that they are often forced to work overtime and night shifts without compensation and are even denied access to bathrooms. Because of protocols that require permission before workers can use the bathroom, some workers have even urinated on themselves and have been forced to wear diapers at work just to do their job. They also accuse management of engaging in anti-union practices and violating maternity and safety policies. Workers claim that they have even been forced to transport explosive materials, work sick, and drive trains with missing doors. All this, they say, ultimately threatens the safety of the passengers and the normal functioning of the Metro system.
“We are not asking for a salary raise. We are asking for a decent place to work and for workers to have a bathroom. It’s unbelieveable that they are urinating in the conductor and cashier booths and that they have to use diapers,” Pérez told Cooperativa.cl. “We are demanding safety. We empathize, at all times, with the citizens, with the people being transported on the Metro. If the Metro were to stop at some time, it is only because the management has been lacking.”
The Metro’s management denies the allegations and insists that workers are treated better than most working people in Chile. They also accuse the protesting workers of causing delays during their protest.
“We respect the right of workers to protest and voice their labor concerns but we understand that affecting passenger service is not the way to channel these concerns,” Rubén Alvarado, the Metro’s general manager, told Cooperativa.cl. “They have salaries that are well beyond the average Chilean worker. They have benefits, and let’s make one thing clear, voluntary resignations amongst our conductors is close to zero. They are less than one percent.”
The workers deny that they caused any delays and say that they are planning to “exert pressure” on management with more protests in the near future. The toll booth cashiers’ union also decided on August 21 to go on strike. This unified front of conductors, cashiers and other Metro workers has given management until August 31 to meet their demands and has promised to stage more demonstrations if working conditions aren’t improved.
“This is an unacceptable and unsustainable situation,” Ávila told BioBioChile.cl. “We are calling on the Metro’s management once and for all to man up and have a talk with the workers.”