Brazil subway workers strike could cause travel chaos for World Cup

2014-06-10 09:01

Sao Paulo - Subway workers in Sao Paulo suspended Monday a strike that has caused traffic chaos in the World Cup host city but warned the work-stoppage could resume when the tournament kicks off.

The union's vote will come as a relief to commuters in the business hub of 20 million people as the city prepares for the opening ceremony and the Brazil-Croatia game on Thursday.

After preparations marred by delays, overspending and protests, officials want to avoid traffic mayhem when the world's eyes will be on Brazil for the next month.

Around a billion people worldwide are expected to watch the opening game on TV, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and 12 heads of state and government will be in the stadium, which workers are rushing to finish on time.

The union decided to halt the five-day-old walkout after transport authorities fired 42 employees for "just cause" over actions they took during the strike, which was ruled illegal by a court.

"Whether we put down tools or not will depend on the re-hiring of the 42 workers," union president Altino Melo dos Prazeres said after a heated debate among workers.

"I'm a fan of Neymar and I will root for the Cup," he said. "Nobody here wants to mess up the Cup. But we see that there's money for the tournament but not for the workers."

Subway workers walked out last week to demand a pay raise in the latest wave of protests and strikes that have swept Brazil ahead of the World Cup and October elections.

The union wants a 12.2% pay hike, but the government is offering only 8.7 percent.

- 'There won't be a Cup' -

Early Monday, some 150 demonstrators supporting the strikers were dispersed by riot police using tear gas after the protesters set garbage bags on fire outside a metro station.

Later 1 000 marched downtown, changing "there won't be a Cup, there will be a strike!"

The five-line subway has been operating partially, causing headaches to 4.5 million riders and forcing people to find alternative routes to the 61 600-capacity Corinthians Arena that will host the opening match.

The strike's suspension came as world football leaders prepared to meet in Sao Paulo on Tuesday for the FIFA congress, a gathering of the sport's federations amid corruption allegations over the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

World Cup teams, meanwhile, continued arriving in Brazil, with France, Cameroon, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras and the United States touching down Monday -- the latter three in Sao Paulo.

In Brasilia, police representatives of the 32 World Cup countries opened a cooperation center and local authorities said they would bar 2 100 Argentine hooligans from entering the country.

Further south, floods in the state of Parana caused nine deaths but relatively spared the regional capital, Curitiba, which will host games and is the base camp of defending champions Spain.

- 'Tropical Spring' -

Rising inflation and a sluggish economy have tarnished the World Cup glow in Brazil, fueling the anger of strikers and protesters who say the $11-billion (R117bn at R10.63/dollar) budget would have been better spent on education, health and transport.

Work on the 12 host stadiums has also been overshadowed by delays and accidents that have killed eight workers, including three at Corinthians.

President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking reelection in October, insists the money spent on the tournament will leave a lasting legacy of modernized transport infrastructure.

But many of the promised projects have been shelved, adding to protesters' anger.

Last year during the Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal, more than a million people flooded the streets, some trashing property and clashing with police.

Recent protests have been smaller, but activists are vowing to revive last year's "Tropical Spring" during the World Cup.

Read more on:    world cup 2014  |  travel  |  travel international

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