Reda Maher

World Cup 360: Pressure mounts on authorities ahead of World Cup opener

Reda Maher

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Commuters in Sao Paulo return to the subway after strikes were temporarily halted

The subway strike that crippled Sao Paulo from Thursday may have been temporarily suspended but things are not looking good for the host city of the World Cup’s opening match.

On Monday night, the five-day industrial action was halted to allow for talks between the metro workers’ union and the state-owned company which runs the public transport system.

Two days of negotiations will come to a close on Wednesday night, but the sacking of 42 metro workers for their actions during the strike has now overtaken pay and conditions as the main point of contention for the union.

Sao Paulo Metro workers' union president Altino de Melo Prazeres Junior said his charges would return to the picket line if the sacked men and women were not reinstated:

"The other demands aren't a priority anymore. The priority is the reinstatement of the 42 comrades."

The initial row was more straightforward.

The union had rejected an offer of an 8.8% pay-rise, instead holding out for their demands of 12.2%.

This level of hardballing may seem a touch harsh to Europeans, but Brazilian inflation is high – 2.86% between January and April alone.

While the official rate has slowed down in recent weeks, an unofficial ‘World Cup’ tariff has seen restaurants, cafes and other private businesses crank up prices by as much as 20%. A local cafe in Rio's Lapa district, for example, had risen the price of a basic meal from around 18 R$ (£4.80) to just under 23R$ (£6) in the space of a month.

And that’s discounting the extortionate prices being charged to foreigners for accommodation - these prices apply to locals too.

Bearing in mind that the average Sao Paulo metro worker will be lucky to take home £500 a month – a figure which is even lower in Rio de Janeiro – you can understand the anger of workers.


However, there is more to this dispute than meets the eye.

The nature of the industrial action itself was illegal – regardless of political views, striking key workers are legally obliged to provide a minimum service, a rule which holds in the United Kingdom as well as Brazil. The Sao Paulo metro workers’ union completely abandoned this responsibility, apparently inspired by the city’s bus drivers, who left their vehicles on public highways with tyres deflated.

That bus strike led to appalling scenes on Sao Paulo’s metro service last week – these are scenes from the stop which serves the Arena Sao Paulo after a Corinthians match. Yes, that is where Thursday’s opener between Brazil and Croatia is being held.

During the days of this week's metro strike, locals and foreigners reported appalling delays in and around Sao Paulo.

Delays of four hours to get from A to B were reported as the standard; it took the Guardian’s Hadley Freeman 13 hours to get from airport to stadium.

Sao Paulo state transport secretary Jurandir Fernandes said he would lay on extra buses should the strike resume.

But the Arena Sao Paulo is on the fringes of the city, a city which is prone to traffic gridlock at the best of times, so how this would help remains to be seen.

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With a significant chunk of visitors for Thursday’s match expected to arrive on the day, authorities simply must find a solution, or the tournament’s showpiece will be a disaster.

But should that solution include the reinstatement of the sacked workers? They will wait to the last minute, but it probably will have to. If not, chaos will reign in Sao Paulo.

Reda Maher is in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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