Photo via Clorinda Noticias

One of the side debacles in the larger controversy over the ongoing — and still unfruitful — wage negotiations between teachers unions and the Buenos Aires Province administration concerns is the offer from a sector of the population, which doesn’t agree with the teachers’ claims, to volunteer to replace them.

The proposal, which went viral on Twitter and grabbed quite a few headlines, reached the ears of Buenos Aires Province Governor, María Eugenia Vidal who, despite not taking up on their offer, did seize the opportunity to get them involved. Her administration outlined proposal entitled “My Part In Education”, which is an open register via which volunteers can sign up to give school support, while teachers go on strike.

The volunteers would not give classes or teach as such, but would provide tutoring – outside of the classrooms – in community centers, public halls and other social spaces. According to Perfil, up to 60,000 people have signed up so far.

In a Facebook post, Vidal wrote that although she was touched by the number of volunteers, “teachers in the classroom are irreplaceable”. “They have been working for weeks in order to plan the first day of classes, and the children cannot start the year with one teacher and then continue with another,” she added. Therefore, the negotiations between teachers’ unions and the government are far from resolved; “we will continue to discuss,” she says, “but with the children in the classrooms.”

Should negotiations continue down this unfruitful path, teachers’ unions will conduct a strike during the first two days of the school year, on March 6 and 7. Moreover, union representatives announced they will join the women’s strike the following day, meaning children would only begin the school year on Thursday, March 9.

Maria Eugenia Vidal Photo via La Nacion
Maria Eugenia Vidal. Photo via La Nacion

Vidal had previously proposed a wage increase of 18 percent, with a trigger clause that would adjust this figure to account for inflation, in four equal payments. This plan, however, was scrapped yesterday. Instead, the provincial government proposed to increase wages in line with the rate of inflation.

It is being branded a proposal “without a ceiling or floor” as there is no numerical limit to the wage increases. Instead, the cost of living as calculated and published by the National Statistics and Censuses Institute, Indec, will determine  by how much wages increase. Should this plan be implemented, wages would be adjusted accordingly every three months.

The dispute between teachers’ unions and provincial authorities seems to be uncompromising, according to Clarín. But where does each side stand?

What do the unions want?

In the province of Buenos Aires, teachers are fighting for a 35 percent salary increase. The number is comprised of the 25 percent they demand for this year — which they say the inflation rate is going to clock in at — plus an extra 10 percent to compensate for their salaries’ loss of purchasing power, a result of last year’s steep inflation.

Unions representatives also demand the government holds a national wage negotiation, as opposed to the current system, by which each province deals with negationing individually. The request has been continuously rejected by the Macri administration.

Mirta Petrocini, president of the Federation of Educators of Buenos Aires FEB criticized the government’s latest offer, arguing that “we can’t depend on numbers that aren’t real, only to reopen the discussions on wage negotiations every time that inflation comes in higher than wage increases.” She went on to say that it’s not only wage increases that they want to discuss, but also “everything…salary, working conditions, school cafeterias, training, absenteeism…everything.”

Currently, the result of this is that they want to hold a 48 hour strike — on top of their intention to join the strike on the 8th — which will affect 12 million students across the country.

Mirta Petrocini, president of FEB Photo via FEB
Mirta Petrocini, president of FEB
Photo via FEB

And the government?

The official government stance puts officials far from settling as long as unions refuse to agree to call of the strikes.

A meeting between union leaders and the government was scheduled to take place at 5 PM yesterday. However, the government had to postpone it after a court upheld an injunction presented by another union (Union of Workers and Employees of Children and Education), which demanded that they be included in the discussion.

Provincial authorities warned that they would “take legal action” if necessary to guarantee that classrooms open for the first day of the school year. Today, City of Buenos Aires’ Mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta,  said “not even one day of classes should be lost.”

They are even considering a decree which would officially shut down wage negotiations. According to the Provinces Ministry of Labor, this was done twice in four years during the last government.

What next?

Meetings between the government and unions are ongoing, as they try to come closer to a solution.

After a meeting held today unions confirmed that the national strikes will be going ahead on March 6 and 7.