MORE than 200 Chilean salmon plant workers are on strike in a bid to force employer AquaChile to increase their wages. Union leader Jaime Bustamante told Fish Farmer that the strike is legal after workers' salaries were reduced by 13%. He explained that, as traditionally occurs every year, the unions sat down to the negotiation table with AquaChile’s management in order to agree on their salaries for this season. “We requested an 8% wage increase in order to offset the effects of the inflation which has caused our food costs to increase over the last two years. Nevertheless, instead of increasing our wages, AquaChile reduced our production bonus so in fact the gross salary we would receive if we accepted the company’s offer would be 13% less than what we are earning now, which of course we did not accept and voted to strike. “We are demanding our Constitutional right to negotiate with our employer better working and living conditions, rights which the Government instead of allowing us to access, refused us." He claimed the 200 plus strikers were camped in front of the company’s Puerto Montt plant entrance at 5am on Saturday, July 15, when 120 policemen in 6 vehicles and supported by anti-riot armoured vehicles and water cannons arrived on the scene. Mr Bustamante alleges that men and women were soaked with water, beaten with batons, and that tear gas was later thrown at the striking workers. Yesterday (Wednesday), over 350 workers and their families marched from the processing plant on the outskirts into Puerto Montt to attend a memorial mass in the cathedral, in memory of the 17 salmon industry workers who have died in labour-related accidents over the last 12 months. They placed signs and protest phrases on the arches of the Cathedral and, accompanied by Lord Mayor Rabindranath Quinteros, who is trying to act as mediator, prayed for a prompt end to this situation and that AquaChile’s owners - Casino magnate Claudio Fischer and salmon farming millionaire Víctor Hugo Puchi – may reach a "decent and legal" agreement over their employees’ wages for the next 12 months. Governor General Jaime Bertín, Lord Mayor Rabindranath Quinteros and Archbishop Cristián Caro met with the industry leaders after the Mass on Wednesday evening and Bertín promised to talk to AquaChile’s management in an effort to find a solution. Later on, a group of workers on strike – who now total 420 – began a hunger strike in the Cathedral. Archbishop Caro gave them a deadline for abandoning the temple, but later on, for humane reasons he allowed them to remain inside the cathedral. Although a spokesperson for AquaChile refused to comment on the strike, an executive who requested not to disclose his name said: “It is very improbable that the company will make a better salary offer because we have carefully studied our costs and we pay one of the highest salaries in the salmon industry. “This strike is affecting us economically and the company is worried over the effect this situation will have on the Chilean salmon industry’s image worldwide,” he ended saying. AquaChile is Chile’s Nº1 salmon producer and the world’s second. www.fishfarmer-magazine.com is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publishes FISHupdate.com, FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.