By Inti Landauro and Susana Vera
MADRID (Reuters) -Truck drivers on Friday said they will continue a 12-day strike “indefinitely” after a meeting with Spain’s transport minister ended in them rejecting a 1 billion euro ($1.10 billion) support package aimed at defusing the walkout over fuel prices that has caused sporadic goods shortages.
Minister Raquel Sanchez announced the measures, which include a rebate of 0.20 euros per litre of fuel and a 1,200 euro bonus, after all-night talks with transport associations.
But within hours, the Platform for the Defence of Transport, the unofficial truckers’ group that launched the strike on March 14, and which was excluded from talks with government, rejected the proposal and began blocking Madrid’s central La Castellana avenue.
“Unfortunately we will continue with the strike,” Manuel Hernandez, who was leading the protest, told reporters after meeting with Sanchez on Friday evening.
He said the strike would continue “indefinitely” if government aid was not immediately implemented.
“We don’t have money to work because we don’t cover our costs,” he said.
TVE reported that, according to Hernandez, the transport minister told him the aid truckers are demanding will be provided through a “draft law” in the coming months and that until then she cannot approve transitory measures to guarantee payment above costs.
Minister Sanchez had agreed to meet the strike leaders, who she had initially dismissed as unrepresentative of truckers overall and linked to the far-right.
“I have never had any problem meeting with them, but what we must celebrate today is this agreement…and that is what I am going to try to explain to them this afternoon,” she told state broadcaster TVE.
Sanchez said all the truckers’ demands were included in the deal, so there was no reason to maintain the strike.
Earlier on Friday, many of the protesters wore high-visibility jackets reminiscent of France’s gilets jaunes protests. Demonstrators also blocked Barcelona’s coastal ring road and burned tires at a border crossing with Portugal.
The rebate on fuel prices, a quarter of which will be paid by oil companies, will also apply to other transport companies, Sanchez said. Bus, light truck, ambulance and taxi drivers will also receive – albeit smaller – bonuses.
As part of the package, the government will approve a new yet unspecified line of state-backed credit lines with a 12 month-freeze on loan repayments, or so-called grace periods where companies are just required to pay interest and not the principal on a loan.
To help companies and households cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish government approved up to 140 billion euros ($154.1 billion) in ICO credit lines in 2020.
On those existing lines, it will extend on a general basis maturities by between eight to 10 years and automatically extend grace periods by six months, the Transport Ministry said on Friday.
($1 = 0.9083 euros)
(Additional reporting by Marco Trujillo, Nathan Allen, Belén Carreño, Jesús Aguado, Emma Pinedo, Christina Thykjaer and Jessica Jones; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Aurora Ellis)