After the federal government ordered unions and employers to the negotiating table following an eight-day strike Argentine grain ports and soy crushing plants located near the city of San Lorenzo slowly resumed operations.
Hugo Lopez, deputy secretary general of the edible-oil workers union in San Lorenzo, said the union's 3,000 members have gone back to work after picketing workers affiliated with other trade unions started to lift their siege of the ports.
"In 24 hours everything will be back to normal," he said in a telephone interview. "The plants are being put back into operation, there is grain on hand, and more grain can now be trucked in."
The local port authority said shipping activity in the affected area has yet to resume, with 22 vessels still docked or moored near the San Martin, San Lorenzo and Timbues port terminals.
On Tuesday night, the Labour Ministry decreed a period of "obligatory conciliation" that requires strikers to return to work while union leaders and employers negotiate a settlement.
The measure was scheduled to take affect at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday and runs for 15 business days, according to the ministry's press office.
Alberto Rodriguez, president of the industry trade group representing Argentina's edible-oil makers and grain exporters, CIARA-CEC, said Wednesday that once the blockade is lifted the crushing plants could be back to full operations in 24 hours, but it will take days to address the backlog of shipping traffic caused by the strike.
Pay rise demand
While strikes are a regular event in many Argentine industries, labour unrest is expected to grow this year as unions flex their political muscle ahead of general elections in October and seek hefty salary increases to protect their members from inflation that is widely believed to be running above 20%.
Last year, public- and private-sector unions won wage hikes of between 20% and 40% and organized labour will likely demand similar increases in 2011.