Image via infocielo

The fight between teachers unions and the government continues – and it seems the unions have won the latest round. Yesterday, a judge approved a union-solicited injunction demanding the government convene national-level wage negotiations within the next five days.

The injunction, brought by the Union Docentes Argentina (UDA) against the Work, Employment and Security Ministry of the Nation, demanded that the government cease its alleged “anti-union” behavior and violation of The Education Funding Law. The Judge, Dora Temis, agreed with the union’s arguments, and — citing to the “gravity” of the prolonged dispute — approved the unusual measure of an injunction, or “precautionary measure” (medida cautelar).

The government was swift to respond, saying they will appeal the decision based on the judge’s “animosity,” which makes her unfit to perform her legal duties. They also suggested that the injunction had no sound legal basis. “This case is improper for the judiciary”, said Education Minister, Esteban Bullrich. 

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Esteban Bullrich. Image credit: Nicolás Stulberg

National (as opposed to provincial) negotiations has been an ongoing bone of contention in the protracted teacher-government wage conflict. 

Teacher’s unions have been calling for a new national negotiation since they began their conflict with the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Maria Eugenia Vidal in late February.

In making their argument, they refer to the Education Funding Law, passed in 2006, which stipulates that teacher’s unions and the federal government negotiate a ‘framework agreement’ (convenio marco) determining the minimum wage for teachers. It also creates a teacher’s incentive scheme, to be partly financed by the federal government.

However, the government claims it doesn’t need to have a wage-negotiation at the national level this year because it already did so last year. It says that, given the national government does not even pay teachers (this is instead the job of the provinces, who can either pay the nationally-determined minimum wage, or more) unions need to negotiate with provincial governments for wage increases.

In the words of Minister of Education Esteban Bullrich “[the injunction] sets out an unreal situation, which is the breach of the law.” “We already called the national negotiation, that’s why we can’t call them again. I can’t give something that I’ve already given, that’s what we said to the judge.”

Bullrich also pointed out that, “when Macri assumed the presidency, the teacher’s salary was equivalent of the minimum wage…it was 5,600 pesos. And now, thanks to an agreement we signed with the five national teaching unions, it is 9,672 pesos. What’s more, it has an in-built mobility, which is 20% above the minimum wage.”

The conflict between the government and the teaching unions has been in full-swing since late February, after negotiations broke down. On March 6, the unions called a strike which many teachers have continued to participate to to this day – many students in the province of Buenos Aires have missed 16 days of school.

What’s really going on?

National as opposed to provincial negotiations sound a little like the tedious ins and outs of labor law, so what’s really going on?

Perhaps unions just really want to negotiate as hard as they can to get dignified salaries for teachers in a country where most would agree they are underpaid and under-appreciated. However, some argue more complicated motives are at play here.

Political commentator, Carlos Pagni, argues that the injunction represents a union strategy to redefine Macri as the enemy, as opposed to popular Buenos Aires Governor, Maria Eugenia Vidal, who has been locked in conflict with the unions over wage-rises since early February. “Baradel [Roberto Baradel, head of SUTEBA needs a conflict with Macri to escape from the conflict with Vidal.” He also posited that Baradel would like to become the face of an anti-austerity movement in Argentina.

There is also some talk of an alleged attempt to destabilize the government in an election year, and perhaps even to promote the interests of former President, Cristina Kirchner. Buenos Aires Province Work Minister, Marcelo Villegas, argued the case represented a “political decision.” He cast doubt on the objectivity of the Judge, who he pointed out is affiliated with the Justicia Legitima Organization, which has been criticized for alleged Kirchnerist-sympathies. “It’s noteworthy that exactly on the day that the CGT calls a strike a judge associated with Justicia Legítima produces a case of this type…Exactly when there’s a national strike against the government…it’s suggestive,” he said.