Defiant teachers vow to ignore conciliation
Most provinces will not begin classes today as unions, government fail to seal a deal
In a clear act of defiance toward the national government, the country’s teachers yesterday took their latest failed attempt to negotiate a pay increase to a new level, dimissing the CFK administration’s threats of a mandatory conciliation, and ignoring warnings their unions could face sanctions if they go ahead with confirmed strikes scheduled to last 48 to 72 hours affecting almost all of the country.
The teachers’ move to dig in their heels was not limited to traditional anti-government labour representatives. The pro-government branches of the CTA and CGT umbrella unions backed the decision, with the latter announcing its own stike action would last 72 hours.
By today, the country’s classrooms were expected to be full to the brim with excited — and some not so excited — children, returning to school for another academic year. But instead, they’ll mostly remain shut in 19 districts (including Buenos Aires City), after the unsuccessful salary negotiations that took place yesterday between the government and the national teachers’ unions.
Teachers will strike for 48 hours in protest of the 31-percent pay increase offer over 18 months made to them yesterday by the government, which said it would order teachers back to work immediately, threatening sanctions against the labour organizations that failed to fulfill an announced mandatory conciliation.
In Buenos Aires province, unions said they would push their strike activity out until Friday.
Meanwhile, the pro-government CTA umbrella union led by Hugo Yasky confirmed its “solidarity” with the largest national union, the CTERA, whose leader, Stella Maldonado, yesterday seemed to scoff at the suggestion the Education Ministry would order striking teachers back to work with a mandatory conciliation measure. She said teacher “would reject it as unfair.”
Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich had alluded to the measure yesterday when he announced an agreement “had not yet been reached.”
On yesterday’s negotiating table at the Education Ministry in the City was a three-stage 22-percent pay increase during 2014 with an additional nine percent to be added in March next year, as well as a 3,000-peso bonus for perfect attendance by 2015.
By June next year, the basic salary floor for teachers would have reached 4,475 pesos per month, a level teachers dismissed as far too low, particularly considering the government’s official inflation rate in January of 3.7 percent.
The Cabinet leader was at pains to defend the government’s decision, which he said “did not involve a unilateral decision nor a decision by decree,” as in previous years’ negotiations — something that teachers had said last week would push them to strike — and underscored the “continuity of negotiations,” which a mandatory conciliation measure would allow for. (Teachers would in theory be required to return to classes for at least 15 days).
From the Labour Ministry, Deputy Minister Noemí Rial threatened publicly that if teachers do not heed the conciliation order “we’re going to apply economic sanctions and, eventually, we’ll ask the court to suspend union status.”
Teachers, who spent much of last month at loggerheads with the government over pay, rejected yesterday’s offer unilaterally, and had their own proposals rejected by the national government on the grounds these ranged from “more than 41 to 61 percent,” Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich explained.
“There’s no going back,” said Maldonado, who confirmed her group’s intentions to strike from today for 48 hours and labelled the offer as “absolutely insufficient given the needs of teachers and citizens right across the country.”
The CTERA leader, as well as her counterparts in other unions, took particular issue with the absenteeism bonus, which the government yesterday offered to increase from 2,000 to 3,000 pesos.
“Attendance is not pay, (and) it’s a fallacy to think it possible to reach an agreement with money that’s not guaranteed,” she said, of a bonus the government has said would seek to improve teacher presence in schools.
Notwithinstanding, the unions continued decrying the offer for not going far enough, one by one confirming their intentions to strike, some for up to 72 hours.
For his part, the head of the UDA union Sergio Romero considered that the “offer was practically the same” in relation to the 22 percent offered a week ago, and confirmed his unions plans to strike for 72 hours along with other pro-government groupings within Antonio Caló CGT umbrella — the SADAP, AMET and CEA.
Teachers strike in most provinces
The national panorama for the start of classes was yesterday summed up by the Education Minister himself, who confirmed that teachers in most provinces will strike from today for 48 hours.
As of press time strikes had been confirmed in at least 18 provinces plus Buenos Aires City, although union leaders said other districts could also be affected.
In Buenos Aires province, teachers went further, confirming they would strike until Friday.
“Until there’s a dignified proposal, we won’t return to schools,” said Mirta Petrocini, head of the Buenos Aires Educators Federation (FEB), as she left a meeting hours after meeting with representatives of the Governor Daniel Scioli administration in La Plata, who have maintained their original offer of a 25.5-percent pay hike in three stages.
“The strike action will take place if and when there’s a better offer. Today we came and received the same proposal as last time,” said Roberto Baradel, head of the SUTEBA union.
Herald with DyN