Spanish truck drivers’ strike continues as food shortages hit consumers

Indefinite strike action by Spanish truck drivers is starting to affect the consumer, with supermarket shelves bare heading into the weekend and uncertainty about when it will change.

Spanish truck drivers' strike continues as food shortages hit consumers
A line of trucks is seen in a street during a demonstration called to protest surging fuel prices, in the Spanish city of Pamplona on March 15, 2022. - Photo: Ander Gillena/AFP

An open-ended strike called by Spanish lorry drivers over sky-rocketing fuel prices earlier this week has put Spanish supply chains under stress and left several sectors struggling to cope.

And now, as the week comes to a close, the supply chain issues are starting to affect the consumer as supermarket shelves are becoming bare. On Thursday and Friday there has reportedly been a lack of fresh produce across Andalusia, and similar problems are expected across Spain if the strike continues.

The industrial action is also starting to have a noticeable impact in bars and restaurants, where deliveries for fresh products simply haven’t arrived, according to the Hospitality employers’ association of Spain.

It is believed losses to the food supply chain from one just week of strike action alone already amount to 600 million.

The strike action was called by a small drivers unions in protest against the crippling petrol prices affecting Spain and the rest of the world. By Wednesday, it had mushroomed into multiple roadblocks and protests, mainly focused on the country’s ports as well as industrial and commercial zones.

READ MORE: Spanish government vows to lower energy prices

Since the end of last year, social discontent has been simmering in Spain over inflation and rising utilities bills, the former jumping to 7.6 percent in February, the highest level in 35 years.

It  has prompted UGT and the CCOO, Spain’s two biggest trade unions, to call for a national strike on March 23rd.

However Spain’s main business lobby CEOE and CEPYME, which represents small and medium-sized enterprises, said such “violent and anti-democratic acts” are “causing serious harm to the supply chain in industry, business and the food sector” as they try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The government has also called for an end to the strike. “We are seeing acts of violence by a minority who are blocking other truckers working to ensure the supply of foodstuffs and other primary materials at a very difficult moment,” tweeted government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez.

The Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, claimed later in the week that the government will never negotiate “with a group of radicals.” The PSOE-led coalition government attracted widespread criticism for its handling of the Cádiz metalworkers strike last November, and will be keen to avoid another political own-goal like the one it suffered when it sent a tank onto the Cádiz streets to deter striking workers.

The government is keeping over 23,000 police officers ready to guarantee the continuation of supply chains and act in the event of possible violent pickets.

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Spain’s striking truckers halt stoppage ‘for now’

Spain's striking lorry drivers agreed on Saturday to "temporarily suspend" a nearly three-week stoppage over crippling fuel prices that left empty shelves in some supermarkets, public television reported.

Spain's striking truckers halt stoppage 'for now'

Self-employed truckers have since March 14th been on strike, blocking roads and staging picket lines that have caused shortages of foodstuffs such as rice, flour, eggs and dairy products.

On March 25th, the government offered a rebate and a onetime cash payment to end the stoppage.

Although hauliers represented by the Road Transport Defence Platform rejected the offer as insufficient and vowed to continue their strike, it has since lost momentum.

At a gathering outside a petrol station near Madrid on Saturday, they agreed to pause their action, with spokesman Manuel Hernandez insisting it was only a temporary suspension and not a cancellation of the strike, Spain’s RTVE public television said.

Spain has been struggling with a wave of social unrest over runaway inflation and rising prices, which have been worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with lorry drivers striking, production stoppages and mass protests by farmers and fishermen.

Earlier this week, the government also unveiled plans to offer 16 billion euros ($17.5 billion) in direct aid and loans for families and companies hit by the impact of the war.

In March, Spain’s inflation rate hit a 37-year high, jumping to 9.8 percent up from 7.6 percent in February.