January 23, 2018
Monday, March 10, 2014

BA province teachers strike for 2 days

An empty classrom in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata yesterday.
An empty classrom in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata yesterday.
An empty classrom in the Buenos Aires provincial capital of La Plata yesterday.

A key week for education sector highlights the likely complications in future wage talks

A few more cobwebs, but hardly many children, is how this week’s start to the school year is starting to play out — at least in six provinces, where some five million children will not be able to go to school as provincial unions will today continue with their strike activity in the wake of ongoing failed wage negotiations on both a national and provincial levels.

And the teachers may only be the beginning of what could be rocky wage talks with a complicated calendar of industry negotiations soon to kick off against a backdrop of uncertainty about inflation and the value of the peso.

Buenos Aires province state workers yesterday called on members to accompany their colleagues in the education sector, months ahead of their own national deadline for wage negotiations in June, with Pablo Micheli’s CTA union umbrella announcing a nation-wide strike planned for Wednesday.

With at least 4.7 million children in Buenos Aires province alone set to miss out on school, the start date for this year’s classes got pushed back yet again yesterday with leaders of the Buenos Aires Federation of Educators (FEB) and the Buenos Aires Unified Union of Education Workers (SUTEBA) confirming 48 hours of strike action, even as they set their sights on tomorrow’s scheduled dialogue with representatives from Governor Daniel Scioli’s administration at 5pm in La Plata.

SUTEBA head Roberto Baradel called for “absolute responsibility and expeditiousness to resolve the conflict” that has delayed the school year since negotiations began last month, while in a press release the Teachers Union Front — of which FEB and SUTEBA are part — reiterated its intentions to ignore government pressure in the form mandatory conciliation and the threat of sanctions for teachers to return to work.

“We ratify our plan of action for this week, which was voted on by the assemblies of our various entities, until the government comes up with a wage offer that can be put to the consideration of teachers,” it read.

“We look forward to a substantially better offer than the one put forward (by the Scioli government) and rejected on two occasions for being insufficient and for not factoring in the demands of the (teaching) sector.”

Teachers in the province last week rejected an offer from the Scioli administration for a 24-percent pay increase valued at 10 billion pesos, which would have been paid to teachers in three installments: 14 percent in March, 5.8 percent in August and 5.7 percent in November. The teachers themselves are proposing a figure closer to 35 percent.

Scioli yesterday qualified his proposal as “reasonable” noting that his government was willing and able to discuss the issue with teachers.

“I hope we can reach an agreement because we’re reasonable in terms of the proposal we have put forward,” Scioli said, adding that he understands unions have it in “their nature to ask for the best wages possible.”

The strikes that begin today will be a continuation of the industrial actions that began last Wednesday, the scheduled start date for classes in the province, which also led to delays in the vast majority of provinces across the country and Buenos Aires City.

Unions in Buenos Aires province — the workplace of 38 percent of the country’s 900,000 teachers — will tomorrow be joined in their 48-hour strike action by their counterparts in Mendoza, Jujuy, Tierra del Fuego, Chubut and Chaco provinces.

Secondary-school teachers in Jujuy province and some sectors of the teachers’ union movement in Chaco province will extend their activity even further, with 72 hours off the job that will see the first prospect of students returning to classes pushed to Wednesday, when provincial union leaders will again sit down with their respective governments.

National-level unions negotiating the minimum wage for teachers will also meet with representatives from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration on Wednesday at the Labour Ministry in Buenos Aires City.

A complicated calendar

Teachers are hardly the only workers pushing for better wages, with other unions and, more importantly, the opposition CTA union umbrella led by Pablo Micheli confirming nation-wide strike action for Wednesday including a demonstration in front of Government House in Buenos Aires City.

The CTA’s state workers branch in Buenos Aires province, the State Workers Association (ATE), will follow the 24 hours of teacher strikes, with their own strikes on Wednesday to demand that the government remove pay ceilings for upcoming negotiations. Its leaders also confirmed they would be asking for a 35-percent pay hike, which would take the basic wage for state workers to 8,500 pesos per month.

ATE head Oscar de Isasi unveiled the group’s plan, stating in a press release the strike activity represented “a fight against austerity, aimed at reaching negotiations without limits and with social inclusion policies.”

In recognition of the national and provincial government’s threats last week, which were aimed at striking teachers’ unions and included talk of sanctions, de Isasi said the ATE “has decided to ignore the mandatory conciliation ordered by the provincial government and demands a change in work and salary policies in province.”

The CTA and its member unions across the country have taken a more drastic approach to ongoing wage negotiations than the country’s other dominant union, the CGT.

State workers from the opposition CGT umbrella led by Hugo Moyano — whose 18 member unions include workers from the ANSeS social security bureau and the AFIP tax bureau — have asked for a 30-percent wage hike to take the basic wage to 6,500 pesos.

What’s more, the pro-government faction of the CGT led by Antonio Caló last Friday met with Government House representatives, thus excluding the teachers from the CTERA union — which responds to the pro-government umbrella of the CTA led by Hugo Yasky — who were the only teachers to ignore government threats against strike activity.

The split comes as attention begins to turn toward the broader picture for government-union relations, with a complicated calendar of wage talks set to unfold from March through June.

Clouds ahead

Unions have been asking for 30 to 35 percent across the board, while the government has shown a desire to cap any possible pay hike at between 22 and 25 percent.

Unions who started negotiations this month and have until March 31, are at a disadvantage compared to others like the industrial and service-sector unions who have between now and July to negotiate, as they won’t have the chance to measure the effectiveness of government measures to tackle inflation, like the “Price Watch” programme.

What’s more, February’s inflation data is expected to reflect the heavy hand of the steep devaluation of the peso in January, obscuring annual inflation with some predicting a figure of 60 percent.

Many unions have and will be asking for “adjustment clauses” for mid-way through the year in the event the economic climate nullifies the impact that negotiated pay increases will have on workers’ hip pockets.

Herald with DyN, online media

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