Just as public primary and high school teachers have started to put down their figurative pitchforks and take a break from striking, university professors seem to be taking over the task, amid renewed salary disputes with the national government. Around the country, a week of university teaching strikes began today, called by Conadu and Conadu Histórica, two principal university teachers’ unions.
Teaching staff from 54 national universities and 84 university-preparatory schools, including El Nacional Buenos Aires and Carlos Pellegrini, will be striking this week in order to demand a pay rise of at least 35 percent, while government officials do not seem to be budging from their latest offer of 20 percent.
The on-going salary spats between the Government and universities affect approximately 180 thousand workers around the country and, consequently, Federico Montero, secretary at Conadu and Feduba, told Clarín that the unions are expecting “participation to be massive.”
In some provinces, including Santiago del Estero and Corrientes, the plan for this week is for classes to stop completely. However, in the City of Buenos Aires, for example, a more active approach will be taken with regard to the strike. Montero explained that UBA students would have public classes in the train stations of Constitución, Retiro and Primera Junta today, while tomorrow, in collaboration with the Universidad de las Artes, “we will continue classes at the Ministry of Education.”
As a form of protest, the teachers and university students of AGD and FUBA announced that they would carry out a bicycle protest at the Obelisk today.
Additionally, the itinerary for this week not only includes salary-dispute-based strikes but the unions will also be encouraging teachers to support further political plights, as Montero explained: “On Wednesday, to accompany the march against 2×1 repressors, we want to move activities to Plaza de Mayo and demonstrate against impunity. And on Thursday, given that the conflict with researchers hasn’t been resolved yet and there’s going to be a meeting about this, we’re going to teach at the doors of Conicet (National Scientific and Technical Research Council).”
These actions also seek to prepare the ground for the ‘federal university march’ that will be taking place next Tuesday (16th May) at 5pm at Congress and for which the unions are anticipating a huge turn out of teachers from all over the country.
Meanwhile, the national office for the private teachers’ union Sadop called for a “week of national protest” this week too, due to the “serious employment situation” in the sector.
— Conadu (@PrensaCONADU) May 8, 2017
So what’s the salary dispute all about?
The decision to strike has arisen after six meetings between university union representatives and the Ministry of Education, representing more than two months of negotiations on the matter.
Explaining why negotiations have halted for the time being, union representative Montero claimed that the Ministry is holding steady with their numbers, which are well below what the teachers are demanding: “At first, their offer was 18 percent to be paid in monthly instalments of 1.4 percent, and the latest proposal was 20 percent in three instalments of 6 percent, plus another 2 percent in January 2018. We haven’t managed to get past those figures yet.”
“We started negotiations on 23rd February and, from the very beginning, we’ve presented a simple calculation. Last year, our settlement was transcended by inflation; we agreed on 35 percent by prices rose by 43 percent. In other words, we lost between 8 and 10 percent. In 2017, inflation is projected to be at 25 percent. So, in order to balance the salaries again, we are asking for 35 percent this year.”
The union representative explained that “a trigger clause” had been agreed on for 2016, which would mean that, in the case that inflation outweighed the percentage increase for wages, discussions would be reopened. However, according to Montero, “the government failed to comply. We did not receive the end-of-year bonus that was granted to non-academic staff either, and nor was the commitment to regularize the situation for contract staff and honorary teaching staff taken forward.”
For now, there is no end in sight. While Montero maintained that if the Government makes a “reasonable proposal” they would be “open to compromise”, the main problem at this point is that the government officials do not seem to agree on the figures. Danya Tavela, deputy secretary for University Policies in the Ministry of Education told Clarín that “teachers did not lose purchasing power” last year.
“In 2016, the pay rise was 35 percent and inflation did not exceed 24 percent. In addition, there are budgetary and fiscal restrictions that we are continuing to work with in order to improve our proposal, although there’s not much room to move from here.”
Addressing the unions’ plans for this week, the government representative also asserted that they do not agree with the strike “because it’s a measure of extreme force that is resorted to when dialogue ends.” The problem at this point is that dialogue is inevitably going to be pretty impossible when one side is saying that inflation last year was almost double than what the other side is claiming.