A happy chappy. Photo via blogs.ft.com

The Minimum Wage Council — an entity comprised of politicians, union representatives and businessmen —  is meeting today to officially agree on a raise in the country’s minimum wage and unemployment benefits. That’s the good news. The bad news is that on the agenda is a discussion of measures to “increase productivity,” which unions fear means suppressing strike action, a fundamental workers’ right.

After unions demanded a 40 percent increase in minimum wage in the vague hope of a 35 percent jump, the government has negotiated a 30 percent wage rise. The minimum wage will now move from AR $6,060 per month to around AR $8,000, if the figures in question materialize. Unemployment benefits are also set to skyrocket from just AR $400 per month to a slightly more liveable AR $3,000.

The minimum wage was last changed in January of this year, from AR $5,588 to the current AR $6,060. In more baffling news, unemployment has not been touched in a decade — it’s remained a miserable AR $400 since 2006.

President Maurico Macri had pledged the increases back in April via his Facebook page when he announced that the Council would meet in May:

Back in April, via Mac's Facebook.
Back in April, via Mac’s Facebook.

The cost of living in Argentina has been going through the roof, with meat, milk and bread all seeing price increases, not to mention exorbitant increases in gas and electricity bills as well as transportation fares.

We can only imagine that the thousands who have lost their jobs since the beginning of the year will welcome the raise in unemployment benefits (while they keep their fingers crossed for new jobs. Maybe.)

Despite this bit of good news coming out of the Labor Ministry, controversy has reared its ugly head as well. The government has set up four committees, with one of them dubiously named “The Productivity Commission” which has the expressed aim of “being an outlet for collective bargaining, discussing days taken off, the impact on safety and health at work, all to improve working conditions with a particular focus on decreased levels of absenteeism.”

To Argentina Workers’ Central Union (CTA) head Hugo Yasky, it all sounds like a roundabout way of masking a suppression of strike action, a fundamental workers right. “Of course we will not accept any limitation in that regard,” he said yesterday.

This isn’t the first time that the powers that be have attempted to curtail protest and strike action. Back in December, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich announced they’d be working on a “social protest protocol.” The aim was to regulate protests in order to avoid disruption to the public. Two things. Firstly, that hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Strikes, particularly roadblocks, are still as numerous as ever and still cause disruption to the public. Secondly, often strike action has the expressed intention of causing public disruption for the inconvenience it causes and publicity it can gain. A strike has far more reach and clout if it inconveniences an entire city rather than, say, a company.