By Clara-Laeila Laudette
MADRID (Reuters) -Spain’s government is prepared to negotiate with truck drivers and believes a three-day strike called by an industry association in the run-up to Christmas can be averted, two ministers said on Thursday.
“I am convinced that through dialogue and agreement we will be able to overcome this crisis and avoid the strike,” Transport Minister Raquel Sanchez said at an event where she announced a 400 million euro ($462.6 million) investment to decarbonise road transport.
That includes subsidies for regional authorities to transform fleets of both passenger and goods vehicles.
While recognising the government was aware of problems faced by the sector, including soaring fuel prices, she said some issues were outside her control.
“Many of their demands go beyond the competence of the ministry, but are instead to do with private relations with companies,” she said.
Spain’s CETM goods transport association, which called the strike, disagreed. Its secretary general told Reuters government action was fundamental and the Transport Ministry could help the sector function better through regulation.
“We’ve not received any contact from the government yet… It all stays in nice speeches, but the actions aren’t there – we’ve spent years with these demands,” CETM’s Jose Maria Quijano said.
Quijano called for a law allowing contracts to be revised following fluctuations in fuel costs – a raw nerve at a time of skyrocketing energy prices – to be made binding to protect truckers, who he said already contribute 19 billion euros annually in fuel taxes to state coffers.
Minister Sanchez also stressed the need to boost rail transport, which will receive 1.7 billion euros in EU recovery funds.
“We must make it possible to conduct a greater proportion of freight transport, which is currently carried by road, by rail,” she said, something Quijano said the trucking sector would, as advocates for multi-modal transport, support.
“If rail successfully takes a portion of goods transport, it would only take a small part away from road hauliers – the last mile will always exist,” he said. “But they should not put all investment into railways and leave nothing for road upkeep.”
Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said in a separate interview on Thursday that the government was sensitive to the sector’s needs and suggested negotiations should avert the need for industrial action.
CETM announced on Wednesday that its members would strike from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22, citing abandonment by the government and exploitative behaviour by clients.
Negotiations over a package of requests presented last year – including prohibiting drivers from loading and unloading merchandise, building safe rest areas and state support in the face of rising fuel prices – have so far not borne fruit.
($1 = 0.8648 euros)
(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette; Editing by Nathan Allen, Bernadette Baum and Jan Harvey)