Thought the conflict between teachers unions and the Buenos Aires Province administration was over? Think again.
The conflict fell off of the media’s radar over the past two months because teachers had decided to not strike — after having done so for the majority of the first month and a half of the school year — and resorted to other methods of protest such as the so-called “mobile school” they set in front of Congress until mid May. However after failing to reach an agreement yet again with the provincial administration yesterday, unions announced that they will carry out their 17th strike in a bit over three months since the beginning of the school year.
The Vidal administration improved its salary offer, but union representatives refused to even consider the proposal if the government didn’t agree to go back on its decision to deduct protesting days from the teachers’ salaries: “It’s a political decision that wreaked havoc with teachers’ salaries, that’s why we are striking. The offer didn’t meet our expectations,” said union leader Mirta Petrocini when leaving the meeting.
In terms, the Vidal administration increased its yearly offer by a percentage point — from 20 to 21 percent — which would be paid in two installments. Moreover, it kept the so called “trigger clause” which, as it name indicates, kicks in if the yearly inflation rate ends up being higher than the increase, and guaranteed them AR$ 2,000 to compensate for the loss of purchasing power they experienced last year. An extra AR$ 440 to each teacher was offered if the unions help reduce absenteeism and meet a preset quota of days in the classroom.
The administration continues with its idea of reaching a long term agreement to guarantee the school year will begin in time in 2018 and 2019: it reiterated its offer of increasing their salaries as much as each year’s inflation rate does, plus ten percent more.
However, the unions refused to consider the offer because the government rejected their request to go back on its decision of deducting protest days from teachers’ pay. Teachers argued that this was done “in an indiscriminate manner” and that even teachers with maternity or sick leave were affected by the measure.
The issue made it to the courts. There were initial rulings siding with the teachers, but subsequent rulings from different courts of appeals overturned them. “We have deducted as the law allows, up to four days per month. Unions won’t even talk about absenteeism either. That also made us reach a stalemate,” government representatives said. Each deducted day means AR $500 less in the teachers’ salaries.
In an interview posterior to the meeting, province Governor María Eugenia Vidal assured the press that the strike is politically motivated: “the debate goes beyond the deducted days. After having extended nine offers in 13 meetings, one better than the other, with a similar proposal to one most provinces managed to reach an agreement with, I can only think that it answers to political reasons and that, one more time, the children have ended up as hostages,” se said.
Both parties are set on standing their ground and it doesn’t look like they will find middle ground anytime soon.