MADRID (REUTERS) - Emergency workers with police escorts will begin cleaning trash off the streets of Spain's capital on Saturday after striking street cleaners failed to reach a deal with their private employers to end an 11-day strike, city officials said.
Madrid's streets and parks have piled up with rubbish after thousands of street cleaners walked off the job on Nov. 5 in protest at plans to lay off 1,134 of the city's 6,000 maintenance workers.
The street-cleaning units of the infrastructure companies OHL, Sacyr and FCC, who all have contracts with the city, offered to reduce the layoffs to 296.
But unions rejected the deal, which would have cut wages that are now around 1,000 to 1,200 euros (S$1,700 to S$2,000) a month.
The conflict has become one of the most visible manifestations of Spain's five-year economic and budget crisis, which has forced national and local governments to curtail spending on public services.
Although Spain's economy has begun a tentative recovery, 25 per cent of the workforce remain unemployed and there are frequent protests against public spending cuts.
Visits to Madrid are already way down this year due to economic woes.
"A lot of tourists have mentioned this is very unpleasant," said Ms Maria Domenech, who manages vacation rentals. "The repercussions are obvious and negative at all levels. How can we defend 'Brand Spain' like this?"
Ms Stacey Augustine, a visitor from the United States (US) walking past piles of trash around the outdoor bars of Plaza Santa Ana, said: "Hopefully it's temporary. It's ugly, it's horrible."
Madrid's city hall said emergency workers would begin cleaning on Saturday after it filed a complaint against the maintenance firms, saying they had failed to meet obligations to maintain 40 per cent service during labour conflicts.
The plan to call in emergency workers would be reversed if there was a deal to end the strike, a city press officer said.
The emergency workers, contracted by the publicly-owned Tragsa, which usually fights forest fires and mops up oil spills, will provide only 40 per cent of normal cleaning hours.
A union leader said on Friday he could not rule out clashes between strikers and the emergency workers.
"We could have any type of problem, I hope there won't be injuries, I just don't know," Ms Jaime Cedrum, Madrid secretary of labour federation CCOO, told Cadena Ser radio.
Residential rubbish collection in the city of 3.2 million has not been affected by the strike, which involves omly staff who collect trash from bins on streets and in parks.