Photo via Perfil (Dyn)

As teachers in the Buenos Aires province strike again today, an agreement with the María Eugenia Vidal administration seems far from being reached. Neither party is willing to cave on their demands and the provincial government decided yesterday to fight the teachers’ fire with more fire of its own.

In a press conference earlier this week, Governor Vidal announced three different measures in an attempt to get teachers back in the classroom.

  • Her administration will award teachers who did not strike a one-time bonus of AR $1,000.
  • They will deduct AR $300 or $600 per day from the salaries of teachers who protested — depending on how much they make.
  • Lastly, they will make an advanced provisional payment (between AR $1,500 to $3,750, again, depending on how much each teacher makes) on the assumption that both parties will finally come to an agreement regarding their salaries.

Another round of Buenos Aires teachers’ salary negotiations is scheduled for today at 5 PM, but at the time of writing, representatives from teachers’ unions said they are not planning to attend.

Teachers have been on strike since last week, rejecting two offers for an 18 percent and 19 percent increase, respectively. Today’s protests are nation-wide, meaning primary school children in the Buenos Aires province have only attended one day of school in the last two weeks, and secondary school children have yet to start their school year.

Teachers are demanding a 25 to 30 percent salary increase, whereas the government wants a deal that is closer to their projected 17 percent inflation for the year (plus a bonus system to compensate for lost purchasing power last year). If an agreement is not reached today, a 48 hour national strike is set to start Tuesday next week.

Vidal’s plans to pay a one-time payment of AR $1,000 to teachers who did not strike has stirred a large commotion. Vidal justified the decision saying the bonus is meant to recognize those “who decided to give classes and prioritize the children.” However, teacher unions say the bonus is a bribey, meant to diminish any protest.

The secretary of teachers’ union Suteba, Romina Del Pla, says the bonus is “Totally illegal.” “They want to limit the right to strike. This is because they do not want to resolve the underlying issue, which [requires] sitting down to discuss how to solve the problem.”

Vidal, on the other hand, has criticized union members she sees as radicals, for not attending several rounds of negotiations her administration called this week. In an interview with La Nación, Vidal attributes the continued protests to a leftist desire for destabilization:

“I believe that taking to the streets is a way to destabilize [the government]… The Kirchnerists confirm, they have much to lose in the judicial front,” she said, making reference to the numerous occasions on which former Kirchnerite officials have been charged and/or indicted with corruption-related crimes.

Teachers' union leader Roberto Baradel. Photo via minutouno.com
Teachers’ union leader Roberto Baradel. Photo via minutouno.com

To reach an agreement, Vidal urges  to leave “Partistan interests [of] politicians and people” aside. This includes her own political interests, which she assures are not part of the equation: “I am not a candidate, I do not work for future candidates, and my only interest, the only reason that I am here, are the children and families of this province; it is not important to me if I lose an election because of this discussion.”

A standing ruling from a Buenos Aires court prohibits pay deduction from teachers who strike, but Vidal and Minister of Finance Hernán Lacunza have announced they plan to do this anyway. Teachers who earn less than AR $19,000 pesos per month would have AR $300 deducted per day they were on strike, whereas those who earn greater than AR $19,000 per month would have AR $600 deducted per day on strike. Unions would have to take the deductions to court if they wish to fight against them, but there is a chance the courts would rule in favor of the administrations.

Vidal and Minister of Education Alejandro Finocchiaro have announced that missed school days will be recuperated, mostly during July’s winter break. The goal, Finocchiaro assures, is not to punish teachers but ensure that kids go to school for the 180 days they are supposed to. A specific plan is not set in motion, but may be part of the discussion today.

Teachers are not required to attend today’s meeting, but Vidal urges participation. Her goals, she says, are shared by most Argentines: to get kids back into classrooms and offer teachers the best deal the government can afford.