Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra. Photo via La Nación

Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra declared in an interview yesterday that there will be no more layoffs in the public sphere and even acknowledged that some layoffs may have been unfair. His comments come in the context of a legislative battle between President Mauricio Macri’s administration and the opposition over the Employment Emergency bill  — which seeks to put a stop to public and private sector layoffs for six months and compel employers to hand out double severance packages to workers they do fire — measures which Cambiemos hopes to avoid.

“The layoffs in the State have come to an end [and] there may have been unfair [cases of] layoffs,” said Ibarra in an interview with Radio Millennium during the Vuelo De Regreso (“Return Flight”) program.

Unemployment has become a central issue in Argentine politics in the last few months. In the public sector, the government has led a crusade against ñoquis, a colloquial term used to describe ineffective and actively unproductive public service workers. While the government argues it is streamlining and “making the State more efficient,” laid-off workers argue that they were not, in fact, ñoquis but productive workers who depended on their now long-gone wages.

This is why Ibarra’s acknowledgement that some of the layoffs may have been “unfair” is particularly significant. Back in April, he had justified 10,921 layoffs saying that the government found a “State [gone] berserk” with “some relatives [of politicians] in the rosters.”

Ibarra went on to explain the current shortcomings of the State and outlined the government’s modernization plans:

“The State does not have people who are educated in software development. But today we have begun to implement electronic files in five ministries. We will launch a website for every citizen to be identified in a web portal and to be able to do all their trámites [official paperwork] from there,” explained Ibarra.

President Mauricio Macri (left) with Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra (right). Photo via El Destape
President Mauricio Macri (left) with Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra (right). Photo via El Destape

The government announced its plans for state modernization in February: electronic documentation, the ability to do our beloved paperwork online instead of having to stand in line for small eternities in various offices and an open government website with key State information. The key concept is that of a “digital citizen” with access to government information.

This week, the private consulting firm Tendencias Económicas (“Economic Trends”) reported that nearly 140,000 workers have been laid off to date in 2016, 40,149 of which were suffered in the public sector at the national, provincial and municipal level. The Modernization Ministry alone was responsible for the majority of the controversial mass public sector layoffs that reached 6,000 by February.

Given the precarious employment situation the country currently faces, the opposition has been trying to implement the aforementioned Employment Emergency bill, which has already been approved by the Senate and is pending a vote in the Chamber of Deputies. Cambiemos, which wants to avoid passing the bill at all costs, has been presenting alternative measures to the bill, such as an agreement with companies to have them suspend layoffs for 90 days (as opposed to 180, as the bill seeks to do).

The bill is supposed to be discussed in the Lower House tomorrow in a special session.