State layoff wave: thousands of contracts ended, public offices close

ATE expects this week’s number to reach 14,000 by the end of the long Easter weekend

At least 5,600 state workers were laid off over the past week amid President Javier Milei’s severe austerity measures, according to the State Workers Association (ATE, by its Spanish initials). It’s the latest wave of layoffs which has led to the partial or total closure of state offices. 

In addition, 2,700 employees have been told they will be receiving a formal dismissal notice in the upcoming days, according to ATE’s latest data. 

Seven thousand employees had already been laid off in December after Milei decided to terminate all state temporary contracts that had begun in 2023.

“The layoffs are seriously going to affect how the public administration works,” ATE’s leader Rodolfo Aguiar said. “It’s a tragedy, not only for the workers and their families but also because behind every lost job is a public policy being dismantled.”

The layoffs only affect employees hired under temporary contracts, a precarious contract modality widely used in Argentine public administration. These contracts are commonly renewed yearly, often renewed this way for decades without the workers being incorporated as permanent staff. In many cases, they can be dismissed without severance pay, depending on the type of contract.

These contracts were scheduled to end on December 31 but were renewed for another three months. Most dismissals were notified over the past week, with many receiving notices on Wednesday, March 27, late at night via e-mail or even WhatsApp just as the long Easter weekend began, Aguiar said. More notices are expected to be confirmed in the next few days.

“We believe the government is complying with its threat to dismiss 20% of employees whose contracts ended on March 31. This means we are going to reach 14,000 layoffs this weekend,” Aguiar told the Herald. Up until last week, there were around 70,000 workers hired in these conditions: Milei claimed that they would all lapse this week, but presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni later said the number was around 15,000.

The consequences

The sector in which most contracts were terminated was Anses, Argentina’s social security agency, which manages pensions and welfare program payments. Around 1,200 workers were fired.

“There were so many layoffs that many offices had to close because all of their workers were fired,” Aguiar said. “This highly diminishes the right to social security in Argentina.” 

Since many of those offices were located in small towns throughout the country, people will now have to travel tens and even hundreds of kilometers to reach their closest Anses office.

The latest data of ATE’s monitor shows over 700 Human Capital Ministry employees, which includes the former social development and labor ministries — now secretariats — were fired. An additional 1,000 of the ministry’s workers reported that they are expecting a formal confirmation as of Sunday.

Other government areas affected by the layoffs include the human rights secretariat with 14 dismissals, the National Meteorological Service (SMN by its Spanish initials, with 48), and the Family Agriculture Office (900). 

The surprise wave of layoffs at the human rights secretariat has led to some memory sites dedicated to honoring the victims of the dictatorship closing down. On Wednesday, the defense ministry decided to fire 10 out of 13 employees who compiled and analyzed archives from the armed forces and the ministry itself, providing key information used in trials regarding crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship. The government programs where they worked were shut down and the statutes that created them were overturned.

Aguiar said there is no clear pattern regarding who the government chose to lay off, but that it rather responds to a “mathematical calculation” to carry out the cuts. The SMN layoffs come after a series of thunderstorms that caused serious flooding and several deaths in recent months. In some cases, workers were people with decades of experience in public administration, such as Lucas Berengua, an SMN meteorologist who had been working there for almost 20 years and was undergoing cancer treatment.

However, Aguiar said that many dismissed employees used to work at municipal or provincial branches for national public offices such as the former social development ministry, Anses, or the Family Agriculture Office — which helps families produce their own agricultural products in compliance with safe food norms in rural areas. “The national state decided to remove itself from the provinces,” the union leader said.


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