Caracas Metro Workers Protest Labor Conditions amid Private Transport Fare Hikes

Transportation has been one of the main issues in Caracas, with poor service and price hikes, as well as worker protests for better conditions.

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Deillily Rodriguez talks to the media during a protest for her reinstatement and in defense of labor rights. (Aporrea)
Deillily Rodriguez talks to the media during a protest for her reinstatement and in defense of labor rights. (Aporrea)
By Ricardo Vaz
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Pays de Gex, France, November 8, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Caracas Metro workers have staged protests calling for the reinstatement of a recently fired union leader and the enforcement of labor rights.

Deillily Rodriguez was fired on October 31, in what workers have deemed a reprisal for her denunciations, as a union leader, of poor conditions in the metro system and demands for improved labor rights.

Since then, several protests have been staged to demand that the public utility reinstate Rodriguez and all other workers fired for demanding better conditions or for denouncing the deterioration of the metro network. Workers are also insisting that the company implement the agreed-upon 40 percent salary raise and re-introduce collective bargaining.

Some of the demonstrations have taken place alongside mobilizations by workers and unions from other Venezuelan state companies, protesting for improved wages, new salary tables and other rights such as collective bargaining.

The latest protest took place on Tuesday in front of the Caracas Metro headquarters. Juan Ovalles, president of the Association of Caracas Metro Pensioners and Retirees, urged President Maduro to address this situation.

“We urge [Maduro] to investigate the board because they are affecting Metro workers and commuters,” Ovalles said.

For her part, Rodriguez told the media that it is not just about finding a solution for her, rather that “all Venezuelan workers demand respect and an end to threats and unfair dismissals.” She stressed that the Metro workers will remain steadfast in fighting for improved labor rights.

The Caracas Metro has been plagued by delays and intermittent service in recent months as a consequence of lack of maintenance and overcrowding. It had been operating free of charge until the latest economic measures and monetary reconversion came into effect. A new fare of 0.50 BsS (approximately US $.0018 at the parallel market rate) per ride was introduced, but its implementation has not been smooth. Commuters have complained about long queues and lack of available tickets, which has meant that turnstiles have for the most part remained open.

Venezuelan media have reported this week that four new trains have been incorporated in the metro’s busiest line, that connects eastern and western Caracas. Transport Minister Hipolito Abreu told press that he expects the underground system to have the 75 trains required for optimal operation by the end of the year.

There were also reports that the Caracas Metro is now able to perform maintenance of the system and produce repair parts using Venezuelan technology. Metro President Cesar Vega reported that this has meant savings of almost 9 million dollars in imports. In a separate statement, Vega also added that very soon metro users will be able to use the Homeland Card to pay for tickets.

To help finance the improvements, Transport Minister Hipolito Abreu has indicated that the state is evaluating a increase in metro fares from 0.5 BsS to 1 or 1.50 BsF, though a final decision has yet to be taken.

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The Caracas Metro, the main transportation system in the urban center, has suffered from intermittent service and overcrowding in recent times. (Archive)
The Caracas Metro, the main transportation system in the urban center, has suffered from intermittent service and overcrowding in recent times. (Archive)

Price hikes

While the metro fare increases are still under consideration, other urban transportation systems have already had their prices increased.

After a meeting between Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and representatives from private transportation companies, an agreement was reached to raise ticket prices in urban routes from 1 BsS to 3 BsS starting November 1. Nevertheless, private transport owners have voiced their dissatisfaction with the deal, vowing to seek a new hike to 5 BsS in the near future.

It also remains to be seen whether the new prices will be observed, with commuters often complaining that private bus operators charge arbitrarily elevated prices, especially on longer routes.

Natalia Franco, a Caracas resident who commutes between El Hatillo and Libertador municipalities, told Venezuelanalysis that bus carriers have long been charging 5 BsS for the inter-urban route and that the recently stipulated 3 BsS fare is only upheld on shorter ones. “Some private carriers have improved, but there are still many issues,” she said regarding the availability of transportation.

Franco added that the situation is much worse in satellite municipalities near the capital.

“The state is trying to step in and cover routes abandoned by the private sector, but it is still not enough,” she added, citing as an example the TransMiranda bus carriers recently introduced by Miranda Governor Hector Rodriguez.

Transportation has been a serious issue for the residents of Greater Caracas in recent times. President Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader himself, had previously vowed that, in areas where service is deficient, transportation should be brought under the control of communes and communal councils.

Transport Minister Hipolito Abreu stated last week that 600 critical points in the capital and surrounding areas had been identified, and that planning and training to create transportation systems with the participation of popular power were underway. However, he offered no details of how the new network would operate. Abreu also promised that the mobility issues in the metropolitan area will be “practically solved” by the end of December.

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