STREET-CLEANERS and rubbish collectors in Málaga city are now onto the 10th day of their 'indefinite' strike after a night of dozens of arson attacks and at least two arrests.
Police and the fire brigade were called out over 60 times to deal with wheelie-bins and heaps of rubbish which had been set alight, apparently in protest after the city council drafted in emergency help from another franchise company.
With staff from the street-cleaning firm Limasa having downed tools over pay and working conditions, rubbish is building up outside people's homes and some of it is hazardous waste, ranging from chemical containers to sharp objects, and food remains which are starting to go off and attract flies and vermin.
National Police caught two men setting fire to wheelie-bins in the San Andrés area of the city and immediately arrested them, but say the accused parties are not linked to Limasa or the strikers.
The city council says it is willing to continue talking to the workers, but that an offer made recently to Limasa's staff committee 'covered practically all of their financial requests'.
However, local authorities have refused to give in over those staff who have faced sanctions for poor performance and want these lifted, nor over their lost wages for the strike on January 18 which took place without prior warning – although workers have the right to strike, they are required to give notice and normally lose their pay for the strike day.
Another reason for the strike, which the council has refused to give in to, is that the workers did not get a Christmas hamper this year and may not for the foreseeable future, as the city attempts to cut costs.
“We are not going to give way even more than we have already, because we're talking about Málaga taxpayers' money,” said mayor Francisco de la Torre.
“If we agreed to all their demands, we would be setting a poor example and encouraging future strikes.”
De la Torre says if the strike is still ongoing by Friday this week, he may have to declare the city an 'insalubrious public area', setting the warning level at 'high'.
This will allow the council to bring in another cleaning firm to remove the rubbish.
Doing this is not permitted by law except when the problem becomes extreme, since calling in new workers to do the job of those on strike effectively removes the impact of the strike and renders it pointless, undermining employees' right to take this action.
This morning (Wednesday), literally hundreds of local residents gathered outside the city hall carrying banners in a demonstration to show support for the mayor's approach.
They called for De la Torre 'not to give in to blackmail' from Limasa's staff.