Chest high and smelly, Seville’s garbage mounts
By RAPHAEL MINDER
The New York Times | February 05,2013
SEVILLE, Spain — Seville is in the midst of a strike by garbage collectors that is entering its second week and threatening to turn into a health safety issue in one of Spain’s most touristic cities. In more recent days, the strike has been accompanied by growing sense of menace, as more than 100 garbage containers have been set on fire during the night. So far the authorities have attributed the fires to random acts of vandalism.
The labor dispute here started last month after the 1,600 employees of Lipasam, the municipal street cleaning company, rejected a plan to reduce their wages by 5 percent while increasing working hours, which Seville’s city hall is demanding in order to comply with the demands of the central government in Madrid for local authorities to balance their books.
About 4,500 tons of garbage have accumulated since the strike started, clogging some of the narrow streets of Seville, the capital of Andalusia.
Under Spain’s labor legislation, Lipasam has to guarantee that 30 percent of the normal quantity of garbage gets collected even during a strike, particularly around hygiene-sensitive areas like hospitals and slaughter houses. The city hall has also ensured that garbage does not pile up around Seville’s cathedral, the city’s main tourist draw.
However, garbage containers are already overflowing in some of the other popular parts of the city, including around the Alameda Square.
Indeed Spain welcomed 57.9 million foreign tourists last year, 3 percent more than in 2011 and close to the record 58.7 million visitors in 2007, before the financial crisis and the bursting of Spain’s construction bubble. Tourism has been one of the few sectors of Spain’s economy to emerge relatively unscathed from the crisis.
While the labor dispute between the city hall and Lipasam continues, other privately held cleaning companies have stayed out of the conflict and even stepped up their activities. Last Friday, Javier Estudillo, an employee of cleaning company Saminsa, was sweeping the street outside the Palace of Altamira.
Estudillo expressed solidarity toward the striking employees of Lipasam.
“I believe that politicians can’t ignore workers’ rights just because the public money has run out,” he said. But, he added, “Seville depends on tourists and can’t afford to have them walking around a rat-infested city.”