ASUNCION – The protest in which bus drivers have been “crucifying” themselves in Greater Asuncion was brought to the doors of the Labor Ministry in this capital on Wednesday, where four workers were nailed to crossed boards to demand respect for their labor rights.
The four men, bringing to 18 the number of workers who have opted to take the extreme protest action of allowing themselves to be “crucified,” arrived at the ministry in the morning and their companions nailed their hands to boards fashioned in the shape of crosses and set up a tent over them where they said they would remain until their labor grievances are resolved.
Two other bus drivers took part in the protest by allowing thick curved nails to be driven through their lips.
The crucified individuals were not hung from the crosses, but rather were allowed to lie on the ground on their backs, although their hands were nailed to the boards.
The other 14 crucified protesters – including two women – have been stationed outside the La Limpeña bus company, in the city of Limpio in Greater Asuncion, for the past three weeks.
The drivers are demanding that 51 of their number who they say were fired by the firm be reinstated, claiming that they were only let go for trying to form a union.
The company, which employs about 100 drivers, services the bus routes connecting Limpio with Asuncion and is owned by lawmaker Celso Maldonado.
“We want the reinstatement of the 51 comrades who were fired in an unjustified way and for our rights to stop being violated,” Juan Villalba, the head of the Fepatrat transport workers union, told EFE.
One of the fired men, Esteban Alvarez, 28, who was nailed to a cross in front of the Labor Department, told EFE that he made his decision to protest in this way because “we couldn’t have a dialogue with management, they treated us like animals. We’re trying to join together and, for that reason, they fired 10 at first and the rest later.”
The protesters called the working conditions at the firm “inhuman,” saying that the company forces them to work 16 to 18 hours a day, does not respect their vacations and does not pay them their bonuses and other social benefits.
They are asking the Labor Ministry to intervene on their behalf with the firm.
Maldonado, a lawmaker for the opposition Liberal Party, said Wednesday in an interview with Radio Uno that he fired 10 workers and does not plan to rehire them, but he emphasized that the rest quit on their own and added that he is ready to talk with the workers “but not with the union,” referring to Fepatrat.
The protest has been criticized by Labor Minister Guillermo Sosa, who at a Wednesday press conference called it “social blackmail.”