By Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Heavy-construction workers in Rio de Janeiro, many involved in work for the 2016 Olympic Games, have begun a strike, the union representing the workers said, threatening to slow completion of projects that are already behind schedule,
About 70 percent of the 12,000 Rio de Janeiro-region members of the Intermunicipal Union of Heavy Construction Workers, known by their Portuguese-language acronym Sitraicp, put down their tools on Monday, the union said. They plan to strike until at least Friday, the date set for an arbitrator to decide on conflicting demands from workers and management.
The union wants an 8.5 percent pay raise plus a 40 real ($13.29) increase in a monthly food subsidy. Employers have offered a 7.3 percent increase.
If the strike is resolved Friday, work on stadiums and transportation infrastructure projects should not be seriously affected, Sitraicp president Nelson Duarte told Reuters late Monday.
"If it is not resolved, then we will go on strike indefinitely, Duarte said. "If there is a 10- to 15-day stoppage, there will be an negative impact on (Olympic) work."
The workers' demands come as Brazil's economy slows but inflation remains stubbornly above the Brazilian government's target of 4.5 percent a year, plus or minus two percentage points.
Brazilian consumer prices were 8.17 percent higher in April than a year earlier according to Brazil's statistics agency IBGE.
Talks between union and management began in February, but construction and engineering companies rejected an initial demand for a 15 percent raise.
The Rio Mais consortium, which is responsible for work on 2016 Olympic projects, said the strike has not affected work on the Olympic Park, where major events such as track and field are scheduled. The Rio de Janeiro organizing committee declined to comment on the strike.
The companies say they are being pressured by the economic downturn and the fallout from a giant corruption scandal at Brazil's state-led oil company, Petrobras, Duarte said.
Many of two dozen companies barred from working with Petrobras, formally known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA, because of a price-fixing, bribery and political kickback scheme are also involved in work on Olympic- and Olympic-related projects.
(Writing by Jeb Blount; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)