Tensions are rising between teachers' unions and the governemnt before this year's negotiations start. (Photo via SUTEBA press office.)

Tensions are rising before the 2018 negotiations between teachers and authorities over wages have even begun.

Not only have there already been rejections from unions in the Buenos Aires province over the possibility of wage increases being limited by 15 percent – as reported by La Nación – there has also been a response from CTERA (Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina) after its representation at the negotiation table with the national government was cut with relation to other unions in a decree issued today.

Although a date for the negotiation has yet to be set in the province of Buenos Aires, a federation of unions has already signaled that it would reject “the imposition of salaries with an inflation target of 15 percent” and called for a deal that would also include an automatic increase for inflation if it outstrips estimates. An offer from the provincial capital in La Plata has yet to be received although unions have heard rumors that it could be in the range of 15 percent. Yesterday Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña said that while wage bargaining negotiations were free, he called on stakeholders to be mindful of the 15 percent target for 2018.

The start of classes was delayed in 2017 in Buenos Aires province as unions and the María Eugenia Vidal government failed to come an to agreement on the updated wage increase. An increase of 24 percent that included an automatic increase for inflation was eventually hammered out after multiple strikes and massive rallies.

Protests by teachers were a constant in the first half of 2017. (Photo via Noticias Argentinas / Damian Dopacio)
Protests by teachers were a constant in the first half of 2017. (Photo via Noticias Argentinas / Damian Dopacio)

Today’s decree reduced the representation that CTERA, the largest federation of teachers unions at the national level, has on the negotiating table with the national government. Up until today CTERA had five of the nine spots on the table set aside for unions, using a proportional system to allocate spots. As of now each national national union will have a single spot, regardless of size.  In that way CTERA will lose influence relative to UDA (Unión Docentes Argentinos), CEA (Confederación de Educadores Argentinos) and AMET (Asociación de Magistrados de Educación Técnica).

CTERA claims to represent 400,000 teachers across the country Roberto Baradel of SUTEBA and CTERA has promised to make a complaint before the Internaitonal Labour Organization as well making their case in their courts locally.

“What they want is to take rights away from workers. CTERA and the teachers’ unions will defend the salaries of workers and will we not allow them to change the rules” said Baradel to Télam.

Negotiations with the national union representing teacher at private schools have been split off, with discussions to take place with representation from the national government and private sector employers.

In a move that has also ranked unions, today’s decree sets out in writing that the lowest wage for teachers will be fixed at 20 percent higher than the minimum wage, closing debate on of the critical elements of the wage negotiations. Last year’s negotiations were difficult due to a disagreement between the government and the unions about whether setting such a baseline was fair or not. Going forward the national government is keen on debate at the national level be about matters such as teacher training but not wage adjustments. Those adjustments must be negotiated at the provincial level in the government’s view.

That vision has been resisted by the unions and today Mirta Petrocini of the Federación de Ecuadores Bonaerenses (FEB), a strong union in Buenos Aires province, said “decrees cannot simply be used to eliminate environments for discussion and debate.”

“The Executive constantly speaks about dialogue and coming together, but it doesn’t do it and only calls us to inform us of decisions without allowing for contributions from the representatives of teachers” said Petrocini in conversation with state-run Télam news service.

Petrocini said that “a few days before the wage negotiations start, these attitudes generate a tense environment that doesn’t bode well for beginning well. Afterwards they’ll demonize us but here we have animosity that is generated by the government so that there is confrontation.”