Photo via Carlos Cermele

February is well underway, which means that unions and business and industry representatives are meeting to negotiate this year’s salary increases, a subject that largely dominates the political conversation during the first portion of the year, every year.

Always one of the most contentious, negotiations between the Buenos Aires Province government and the public teachers unions officially begins tomorrow.

However, negotiations already began indirectly a long time ago with representatives from both sides already making very public statements to the media. All of them have made it clear that, same as every year, there is a large gap between what the María Eugenia Vidal administration is planning on offering and what unions consider is a fair increase for 2018.

Along the guidelines established by the federal administration, the provincial government said that it plans to offer a 15 percent increase, this being the official inflation goal for the year.

Predictably, a federation of unions has already signaled that it would reject “the imposition of salaries with an inflation target of 15 percent.” I

In a radio interview, CTERA (Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina) leader  Roberto Baradel said his union will demand a 20 percent increase that also includes automatic increase for inflation if it outstrips estimates. And he warned: “if they insist with the 15 percent increase without the “trigger clause” [that’s how the automatic increase is being called], there will clearly be conflict.”

The start of classes was delayed in 2017 in Buenos Aires province as unions and the Vidal government failed to come an to agreement on the updated wage increase. An increase of 24 percent that included an automatic increase for inflation was eventually hammered out on July 5, after 16 strikes and massive rallies.

According to La Nación, a factor that could help both sides reach a respectable outcome is reducing the funds that the administration uses to pay absenteeism (you’re welcome for the link) by half. 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.

Considering how far away initial positions are this year, it is unlikely an agreement will be reached in the first sessions However, a factor that could play in the government’s favor is the fact that CTERA’s representation at the negotiation table was cut with relation to other unions in a decree issued last month.

Up until then, CTERA had five of the nine spots on the table set aside for unions, using a proportional system to allocate spots. As of now, each national union will have a single spot, regardless of size. That way, CTERA will lose influence relative to UDA (Unión Docentes Argentinos), CEA (Confederación de Educadores Argentinos) and AMET (Asociación de Magistrados de Educación Técnica).

CTERA claims to represent 400,000 teachers across the country. Roberto Baradel of SUTEBA and CTERA has promised to make a complaint before the International Labour Organization as well making their case in their courts locally. Baradel has always been extremely critical of the government. In fact, he will be one of the few union leaders to participate in the march against the Macri administration called by the former leader of the teamsters union, Hugo Moyano, that will take place on February 21.

The first round will take place tomorrow. Many more will likely follow before an agreement is reached.