The Buenos Aires Province’s Labor Ministry is set to impose a multi-million peso fine on its primary teachers union, Suteba, as a result of its refusal to abide by a legal resolution compelling it to refrain from striking this week.
The sum has not been determined yet, but media speculates that it will oscillate between AR $350 million and AR $700 million. The calculation is based on article 3 of law 26,941, which regulates the “general regime of sanctions to labor infractions” and establishes that “extremely grave infractions” are sanctioned with fines that range between 50 and 2,000 percent of the union workers’ basic salary, which are then multiplied by the number of affiliates the union has.
The fines usually amount to 140 percent of salaries, but considering that Suteba has 70,000 affiliates – out of the 400,000 public school teachers in the province – the amount is likely to be lower. Nonetheless, the decision will add fuel to the fire that is the relationship between these two camps: if effectively imposed, the sanction would cripple the union. And all hints indicate that it would not lead the union’s leaders to cave in their demands for higher wages.
- Read more: Updated: Vidal Will Ask Labor Ministry to Suspend Teachers Union Strike
Namely, the sanction comes as a result of the union’s refusal to abide by a so-called conciliación obligatoria: a decision made by a Labor judge amid a conflict between employers and employees, which obliges the latter to abandon any measure of force being taken at the moment for a determinate period of time, in order for both parties to return to the negotiating table.
In this case, the judge compelled the unions to refrain from conducting a three-day strike this week to demand the Vidal administration improve its annual salary increase offer.
Suteba has not yet been officially notified of the decision, but Secretary General Roberto Baradel has already anticipated he will appeal and take the dispute to court. He argues that the union did not fail to abide by the ruling, because they didn’t conduct the strike for which the provincial government wants to sanction them. Actually, he says, they joined a nationwide strike called by national union Ctera. To fund his claim, Baradel said teachers are only striking for two days (yesterday and today) as Ctera called them to, rather than the three-day, independent strike they announced would conduct last week.
In a radio interview today, Baradel addressed the sanction and fired hard ammunition against the Vidal administration: “It’s extortion. Dictatorships and authoritarian governments do this,” he said.
The sanction is likely to prompt unions to implement more measures of force in shorter intervals. Taking into account yesterday and today, unions have this year conducted 11 strikes, in which students missed 14 school days, as some were two days long.
The decision is identical to the one made by the national Labor Ministry with regards to last year’s refusal of the teamsters union led by Hugo and Pablo Moyano to refrain from protesting to give visibility to their demand of a AR $9,500 end-of-year bonus aimed at compensating the loss of their salaries’ purchasing power.
Same as Baradel, Moyano has already anticipated his intention to challenge the decision in court as well as escalate the union’s fighting plan and conduct as many strikes necessary to get the Macri administration to backtrack on its decision. Considering that along with Moyano, Baradel is perhaps the head honcho with the most combative profile, he will probably not lag behind.
This week’s strike came on the heels of what unions consider to be a new insufficient salary increase offer the María Eugenia Vidal administration in a meeting that took place last Monday, and the provincial government’s refusal to call them back to the negotiating table three days after the unfruitful conversation.
Representatives of the Vidal administration indicated they rejected meeting again because they wouldn’t change the offer they had extended in the first meeting.
Union leaders rejected the Vidal administration’s offer of a 16.7 percent increase for the first seven months of the year, and the opportunity to go back to negotiating an extra increase for the remaining months.
“The Vidal government’s eighth proposal not only intends to camouflage the one she has already made seven times, but also intends to avoid abiding by the ruling set by the courts,” said the unions through a unified release, referencing a ruling from last week that obliged the provincial government to call the unions to negotiate after more than three months.
Unions, in contrast, demanded a 30 percent annual increase and the inclusion of a so-called “trigger clause,” which would honor its name if the year’s official inflation rate surpasses that sum. The provincial government has been unilaterally increasing teachers’ salaries throughout the first months of the year to prevent them from being further harmed by inflation, but based on the proposal the unions rejected.