Rio de Janeiro’s street cleaners pursued their post-Carnival sweep-up under police escort on Thursday after reports they had been threatened by gun-wielding striking colleagues.
Mayor Eduardo Paes said most of the city’s cleaners had shown up to work this week, despite a strike call, but had been intimidated by an aggressive minority demanding pay rises.
The disruption came just after the city’s world-famous carnival, which brought out four million revellers and left the streets overflowing with garbage ahead of this weekend’s samba school competition.
The success – or otherwise – of the carnival will be watched particularly carefully this year because Rio is one of the host cities of the 2014 soccer World Cup, and all eyes are on Brazil’s preparations.
Paes said some buses carrying cleaners to Rio’s famed Sambadrome had been intercepted by men wielding pistols. Streets around the venue have been awash with trash since the weekend.
City authorities initially said 300 strikers were being fired but Paes said the decision could be overturned if they returned to work.
The city’s sanitation agency, Comlurb, said it would draft in an unspecified number of reinforcements and vowed to have the streets cleared by Friday. The strikers, who claimed that 70 percent of street cleaners joined their protest, complained not only of poor pay and conditions but also of the extra work caused by the Carnival.
Their union, however, distanced itself from the strike.
Comlurb said on Wednesday that a deal had been struck to give 15,000 city cleaners a nine percent raise, while starting dismissal proceedings against the holdouts who downed tools on Saturday.
With bonuses, the deal gives cleaners 1,224 reais a month and overtime benefits on Sundays and public holidays. The strikers had demanded 1,680 reais.
By Thursday, several districts had been cleared, including tourist magnet Copacabana, party district Lapa and the port, Comlurb said, welcoming “a great improvement compared with recent days”.
Nonetheless, the chic beach area of Ipanema remained awash with debris after cleaners from a private company contracted by Comlurb were sent packing by strikers. Some 300 cleaners attended a city-centre demonstration at which they booed the mayor, Comlurb and their union.
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