Vice President Gabriela Michetti announced that 300 Senate workers were laid off on Monday. Photo via La Nación.

If you thought that the hunt for ñoquis was over, think again: there has been yet another wave of public sector layoffs this week. The term ñoquis does not, of course, refer to the pasta, but rather to government workers who allegedly collect paychecks despite being actively unproductive.

The latest in the mass public sector layoffs saga is that the head of the Connecting Equality program, Javier Castrillo, took to Twitter last night and accused the government of laying off over 1,000 workers. The government however today denied firing anyone from the social program. As per usual with the issue of mass public sector layoffs, there are multiple voices and confusion as to what is really going on.

“1,100 workers from the Connecting Equality out of work. Connecting Equality without a team starting today. Happiness revolution.”

The alleged objective of the government’s policy of “evaluating contracts” (this generally means firing public workers) was to make the public sector more effective because, in Macri’s administration’s words, the public sphere had become an “employment office” for political activists aligned with the former administration. Many aligned with the former administration consider these “contract revisions” to be a political witch hunt. According to the State Workers’ Association (ATE), around 21,000 have been laid off since the Cambiemos administration took power in December.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on.

Connecting Equality

Photo via Infobae
Photo via Infobae

Connecting Equality (Conectar Igualdad) is an Executive Branch initiative that seeks to bridge existing gaps in the quality of education throughout the country, principally by putting an accent on improved technology in the classroom. The initiative is well known for its distribution of laptops to schoolchildren in high schools across the country.

Workers at Connecting Equality stated that they had been told “the initiative will not continue,” meaning that those involved in the program’s implementation would be let go. However, in a press release, the Education Ministry said that this is false and that “Connecting Equality will continue with absolute normality,” although “the opportunity will be seized to optimize its structure.”

What has happened, however, is that the Connecting Equality program will now be under the control of Educ.ar., a State company that has been a part of Connecting Equality since its creation in 2010. Not the Education Ministry. According to the government, the change of jurisdiction will not imply that anybody will lose their job:

“Today, 1,500 people work for the Connecting Equality program and will continue to do so.”

However, a press release from ATE explicitly states that “the [government] officials said that Connecting Equality will not continue and its entire team is fired.”

All in all, the issue continues to be somewhat murky.

Other Public Sector Layoffs

Connecting Equality was not the only controversial case of public sector layoffs: people from the Senate, the Secretary of Commerce and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) were also fired over the past week. In some cases, ATE denounced the layoffs but there aren’t concrete official numbers to confirm them.

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The Senate
Vice President Gabriela Michetti announced that 300 Senate workers were laid off on Monday. Photo via La Nación.
Vice President Gabriela Michetti announced that 300 Senate workers were laid off on Monday. Photo via La Nación.

On Monday, Vice President Gabriela Michetti signed Decree 107/16, firing over 300 people and “retiring” another 70 that were eligible due to their age:

“For reasons strictly of opportunity, merit and convenient, it is fitting that the following public workers of the Temporary Staff that are named in the annex,” reads the decree.

The Senate has both Temporary and Permanent Staff, the former being hired workers that fulfill duties that respond to a national legislator or a party caucus or a particular commission. Temporary Staff are often incorporated into the Permanent Staff (obviously not in this case). According to Michetti, the ranks of temporary staff had swollen exponentially in the past year and posed a budgetary problem.

Secretary Of Commerce
Miguel Braun, the current head of the Secretary of Commerce. Photo via Infobae
Miguel Braun, the current head of the Secretary of Commerce. Photo via Infobae

Although they have not been officially informed of the decision, 200 people have allegedly been fired from the Secretary of Commerce, including people in charge of the Price Information Program (Sirip) that monitored prices by obligating companies to give monthly information on their product prices. This system will no longer exist and will be replaced by a new online price control system managed by the Ministry of Production.

Although the government does not deny the layoffs in this case, ATE claims that the number of terminated contracts was between 250 and 300, including “people with 30 years’ seniority and three pregnant women.” ATE representative Hebe Sobrado questioned the decision:

“The first layoffs were justified by the government as getting rid of ñoquis. How are they going to justify [these layoffs]? They’re emptying the State.”

INADI
Photo via Inadi Official Website
Photo via Inadi Official Website

66 people were fired from the INADI (National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism) last Friday via email (yes, via email) for which the institute went on strike for two days this week in protest. The workers in question have also pressed charges against INADI director Javier Buján, who was placed there by the government, as they consider that their termination was politically motivated.

As the government continues to streamline and “make the State more efficient” it would seem that the mass public sector layoffs and the controversy that they entail are here to stay. There have been many protests against the government’s “streamlining” or “witch hunt”: ATE staged a protest today at 2:00 PM against the layoffs at Connecting Equality and #ConectarIgualdad became a Trending Topic throughout the day.

The public sector layoffs have often been shrouded in confusion and tensions. Whether it is a case of purposeful misinformation or simple misunderstandings has yet to be clarified, but it is a subject that will continue to be at the forefront of the news in the upcoming months.