August 27, 2018 / 3:29 PM / 23 days ago

Workers protest shutdown of tire maker Pirelli's Venezuela plant

VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) - About 100 workers protested outside tire manufacturer Pirelli’s Venezuela plant on Monday after finding the gates locked, ten days after the country announced a broad set of reforms including a massive hike in the minimum wage.    

The logo of Pirelli is seen at a tire workshop in Caracas, Venezuela August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Employees were not told the plant would be shut, said union leader Luis Alvarez, who added it was not immediately known if it was temporary or if the operation had permanently closed its doors.

“Production was falling, but they always kept us on the job,” said worker Nicolas Altomaris, who was waiting at a gate for information. “Now they’ve made this decision to send us out without knowing if we’ll return.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

Union leaders say about 700 employees work at the plant.

Pirelli and parent company China National Chemical Corp Ltd did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry also did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.    

On Aug. 17 President Nicolas Maduro ordered a 3,000 percent minimum wage increase while also requiring that companies leave prices of their products fixed amid a hyperinflationary crisis.

Business leaders say the package is unsustainable and would force many firms to close their doors.

In the past, Pirelli Venezuela has temporarily halted operations due to a lack of raw materials. Currency controls make it difficult to import such materials, while price controls can at times force companies to sell below production costs.     

The company, which supplies tires for Formula One, manufactures tires for cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses in Venezuela. It was acquired in 2015 by China National Chemical, known as ChemChina, which is owned by the Chinese government.

Multinational companies including Clorox Co (CLX.N) and Kellogg Co (K.N) have been steadily leaving the country amid shrinking demand caused by an economic collapse.

Maduro has said the country is victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries with the help of Washington.

Reporting by Tibisay Romero; Writing by Corina Pons and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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