LIMA (AFP) – Peruvian government officials sat down to talks on Friday with representatives of farm workers who had blockaded a highway to protest the deaths of three people in clashes with police.
Farm workers have been staging protests for weeks to demand more pay. But 28 demonstrators and 36 officers were injured in confrontations, while 45 agricultural workers were arrested.
Authorities said three people, including a minor, were killed in clashes with police in recent days.
This prompted the workers to blockade a part of the key Pan-American Highway some 500 kilometres north of the capital, Lima, in protest.
The blockade held for two days until it was lifted ahead of talks on Friday. Television images showed police using tear gas and birdshot against demonstrators.
The presidency of Peru’s council of ministers said in a tweet on Friday that discussions had started in the city of Trujillo and would involve “active listening” on the part of the commission.
The workers are demanding that agricultural-export companies increase their daily wage from USD11 to USD18, but a newly passed law provided an increase of only PEN48 – about USD13.
On Friday, a commission that the government said included ministers and deputy ministers of agriculture, labour, trade and other senior figures met with workers’ representatives.
After more than seven hours of talks, the participants agreed to draw up an amendment to the agrarian law, adopted by Parliament on Tuesday, within 45 days.
“We call on the representatives of (agricultural) workers at the national level to discuss the modification” of the agrarian law, Labour Minister Javier Palacios said, adding that talks will continue over the weekend.
The talks came after a call to dialogue on Thursday by President Francisco Sagasti, who also vowed to “sanction the police that did not respect the ban on using firearms” on protesters.
Sagasti agreed the new law “does not satisfy any of the parties involved” and undertook to set up a national forum “to discuss the future of the agricultural sector”.
The government announced an investigation into the deaths during the protests and said the police chief of the La Libertad region would be removed.
Rural labour protests over wages and conditions have been a feature of the Peruvian political scene in recent weeks. Since the protests broke out there have been five deaths.