Teacher union representatives celebrate the collective bargaining agreement with Labor Minister Jorge Triaca and Education Minister Esteban Bullrich. Photo via Clarín

Kids, pack your pens and pencils: looks like you’re going back to school on Monday. Or some of you, at least.

After weeks of tense negotiating, an agreement was signed between the national government and the teachers’ unions yesterday, putting to bed (until next year) the conflict over teachers’ salary increases. A preliminary agreement was also reached in Buenos Aires Province between the provincial government and the teachers’ unions. Four provinces have yet to reach an agreement with the teachers’ unions. But time’s up: today is the last working day for negotiations to go through and guarantee that the school year begin normally on Monday.

This is all part of collective bargaining, of course, which are negotiations between the government and unions over salary increases, in order for workers’ purchasing power to match inflation. Negotiations with teachers’ unions have taken the limelight these past few weeks because those unions tend to be quite powerful, especially in Buenos Aires Province where education workers represent over half the province’s 500,000 public sector workers. Not only that, but they can bring the province to a halt by shutting down its 17,000 schools.

Let’s break down the agreements that were reached.

At The National Level

First, the national agreement signed by the Labor Minister Jorge Triaca, Education Minister Esteban Bullrich and five major teachers’ unions will represent a 32 percent increase for the majority of teachers’ income. The minimum wage will be increased from AR$6,060 to AR$7,800 from February onward (a 27 percent increase) and will be bumped up again to AR$8,500 in July (a 40 percent increase for lower-income teachers).

The initial increase was of 25 percent, but the Teacher’s Fund (FONID) was also increased in order to reach the average of 32 percent (and 40 percent for lower-income teachers). FONID provides a fixed sum of money from the national government that will be paid in two installments to complement teachers’ salaries. This year, it will rise from AR$510 to AR$810 in February and to AR$ 1,200 from July onwards.

The national collective bargaining agreement is not the final salary increase for teachers: each teachers’ union negotiates with its respective province, which actually pays teachers. Thus, the agreement with the central government is a reference because the salary paid by each province cannot be below the accorded national value.

The way it usually worked was that unions negotiated with the Executive Power and then reached agreements in the provinces, but President Mauricio Macri announced a change in strategy that completely reversed the process i.e., negotiate first with the provinces, then the national government.

“The [previous] central government [used to] fix the collective bargaining agreement and wouldn’t care about what happened in the provinces later, when the ones in charge of the teachers are the provinces. As President, I am not responsible for teachers.”

As you may have noticed, this is not what happened. In addition, the collective bargaining has been described as “open” and there will be more meetings during the year.

For more on the controversial negotiations between the government and the teachers’ unions, click here.

In Buenos Aires Province

Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal in a meeting with representatives of the major teachers' unions in La Plata. Photo via Infonews
Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal in a meeting with representatives of the major teachers’ unions in La Plata. Photo via Infonews

Onto Buenos Aires Province negotiations. Governor María Eugenia Vidal offered a 34.6 percent increase, by which the minimum wage would be increased to AR$7,904 in February, then AR$8,846 in March and finally to AR$9,801 in July. After a long day of negotiations yesterday in La Plata, the unions agreed to consult other unions today and tomorrow in order to answer the Executive Power over the weekend.

“This isn’t what we expected, but it was an improvement on the previous offers so we acknowledged it and this Friday we will present it to [everyone]” said the President of the Federation of Buenos Aires Education Workers (FEB), Mirta Petrocini.

And The Rest

Teacher’ unions in four provinces — Santa Fe, Córdoba, Mendoza and Tierra del Fuego — have yet to reach an agreement and have threatened to go on strike, possibly delaying the school year meant to start on Monday. With regards to this, Bullrich stated that:

“We have time until Sunday at midnight and we’re going to continue working with the governors [to reach an agreement].”

Hopefully an agreement can be reached without jeopardizing the school year, the disruption of which affects teachers and students alike.