An empty school in the province of La Pampa. Photo via Telam

As Wednesday marks the third day of the teachers’ strike in the Province of Buenos Aires, the provincial government called the main unions to a new round of negotiations on Friday. In an attempt to put the conflict to bed, the province’s Labor Minister, Marcelo Villegas, said the María Eugenia Vidal administration will present them an “improved” offer, but that he also expected them to go back to class tomorrow.

“The Governor said we are offering what we can, we hope the unions accept to dialogue and children can start school tomorrow,” Villegas said in an interview with Radio La Red.

When consulted about the proposal’s details, Villegas anticipated that the provincial government will “improve our [prior] offer of an 18 percent salary increase, with a clause that would see them get an extra increase if the year’s inflation exceeds that number.” He went on to say that the offer “is not about structuring a proposal around its economic aspect…There are other issues that have to be part of a proposal and an agreement.”

“I hope they [the teachers] value the gesture, and I hope children can start the school year tomorrow while we dialogue,” he finished.

However, the Vidal administration will have its work cut out in the meeting, as tensions with the teachers’ unions are still running high and both parties are clashing on several fronts. In retaliation to the strike, the provincial government began a process to impose on the Buenos Aires Province unions that spearheaded the strike severe economic sanctions and to even stop acknowledging them as official organizations.

Moreover, last Friday the Department of Labor legally compelled unions to go back to work while negotiations continued, and called them to a meeting today at noon. However, a court annulled the decision, so teachers didn’t attend today’s meeting. It will be up to the teachers to attend the meeting this Friday.

And finally, another ruling this week determined the Vidal administration can’t deduct protest days from teachers’ wages, as it claimed it would. In the ruling, La Plata Judge María Ventura Martínez even warned that, should they not comply with the ruling, she would sanction government officials.

Teachers' strike on Monday. Photo: Paula Ribas
Teachers’ strike on Monday. Photo: Paula Ribas

However, the government is planning to appeal the decision and is confident the appeals court will uphold a prior ruling that allowed them to deduct strike days from pay. It also appealed the first ruling.

Tens of thousands of teachers marched yesterday in different cities across the country, protesting against what they consider to be low salary offers from their respective provincial administrations and the refusal of the federal government to hold a national negotiation.

Buenos Aires Province Unions claim the 18 percent salary increase the Vidal administration is offering — subject to increase if the year’s official inflation exceeds that number — is not enough. They insist their salaries lost 14 percent of their purchasing power last year, and that this year’s inflation will be 25 percent — 7 percent more than what the government predicts.

According to Ctera, the largest teachers’ union in the country, 90 percent of the province’s 280,000 public school teachers adhered to the strike. The Vidal administration, in contrast, assured that the strike’s impact was lower and was felt in only 60 percent of the province’s 17,000 schools.

Classes should start tomorrow in the province — they have already started in other places, such as the City of Buenos Aires — considering this is the last official strike day. The Vidal administration intends to make it be the last.