Photo via Telam/Eva Cabrera

Representatives of the María Eugenia Vidal administration and of the province’s public teachers union gathered yesterday for the year’s first round of wage negotiations. And, predictably, they did not reach an agreement.

Previous to the meeting, local media outlets had already reported that there was a wide gap between what the BA province was planning to offer and what the union was willing to accept.

And both stood their ground. The Vidal administration offered a 15 percent increase – this being the federal government’s official inflation goal for the year – plus a AR $4,500 bonus for teachers who did not miss any class days last year, as well as a promise to grant another one next year, under the same conditions.

Unions unanimously rejected the proposal, arguing that the government is putting salaries over teachers’ health. “We trust the provincial government will make an improved offer. There is not much time and this discussions are not only about salaries,” said leader of the Federación de Educadores Bonaerenses, Mirta Petrocini.

The reasoning behind the rejection is likely to not only have to do with health issues. Considering there were 16 strikes last year, the bonus would only be given to those who didn’t protest against the government last year. This would set a precedent that could perhaps discourage teachers from joining the most important measure of force unions have.

Unions, on their end, have already warned they will not accept an offer that is lower than a 20 percent increase and includes the so-called “trigger clause,” which comes in effect if the official inflation rate of the year is higher than the agreed increase.

The date for the next meeting has not been set yet, but it will likely be after next Wednesday (February 21), day when the march against the government called by union leader Hugo Moyano has been called, and of which some of the unions that sat at the table yesterday will be participating in.

Media have reported that, as of the next meeting, the provincial government will bring to the table the possibility of guaranteeing a larger increase in exchange for reducing absenteeism levels. Currently, the provincial government pays AR $20 billion per year to cover teachers who take sick leaves. Taking this into account, they could use half of that money to give bonuses to those teachers with low absenteeism rates. Unions have not addressed this possibility.

The school year is officially set to begin on March 5. But same as in most previous years, it is uncertain whether this will happen. In fact, the only provincial administration that has managed to reach an agreement with its teachers is Misiones, after unions agreed to a 15.5 percent increase without “trigger clause.”