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October 25, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fragmented unions brace for wage talks

Leaders of some of Buenos Aires province teachers’ unions meet with government officials last week to discuss wage hikes.
Capitanich sets date for pay negotiations with teachers, while CGT, CTA aim for 35% hike

As the national government moves toward rounding up its tardy negotiations with teachers over basic wages on Friday, the forecast for upcoming talks with the country’s unions looked as cloudy as the skies over Buenos Aires City yesterday, with the fragmented union movement tugging from different angles at the credibility of government claims that it has a history of success during annual wage talks, and one umbrella group going as far as announcing a series of strikes for early March.

From the national government’s corner, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich yesterday confirmed he would be meeting with representatives from the five predominant national-level teachers unions tomorrow to establish a wage floor on which provincial negotiations could be based. However, a possible agreement seems far from black and white at this stage.

With a slower economic growth rate expected for 2014 and the impact of the steep devaluation of the peso in January yet to rear their head — at least in real terms — in any final wage deal, the head of the anti-government CTA Pablo Micheli threw another spanner in the works yesterday, announcing his union’s intention to strike on March 5, regionally, and on March 12 in Plaza de Mayo square in downtown Buenos Aires, while Pablo Moyano, from one of two CGT umbrella groups — which is led by his father, Hugo Moyano, also opposed to the government — reiterated that by June his group would be “very strongly asking for 35-percent” wage increases.

“Open wage negotiations, a minimum and adjustable wage of 9,000 pesos” along with improved retirement packages, and an end to lay-offs, among other demands, was how the CTA described its wage negotiation agenda in a news release yesterday, with its leader Micheli then ironing out the numbers: “a wage increase of 35 percent, since the 25 percent proposed by the government is miserable.”

“To talk of 25 percent is a demonstration of a lack of common sense,” he said. “Projected inflation for this year is 40 percent.”

The CTA is also aiming for a 3,000-peso bonus.

Meanwhile, the opposition CGT — which has been estranged, like Micheli’s CTA, from the Fernández de Kirchner government since 2010 — would be asking for a similar figure this summer, official Pablo Moyano reiterated yesterday.

“Today, with the rampant inflation that exists, with the income tax, with the lack of payment of family benefits, it’s impossible to put a roof on the wage negotiations,” he said.

Yet Moyano junior did go as far as putting a figure on mid-year salary talks with the government, even though such talks have only ever taken place at the start of the calendar year. (Teachers’ unions have also recently been pushing for mid-year negotiations.)

“In June we’ll come out very strongly asking for 35 percent,” he said, adding that the “government has recognized inflation, which is unbearable. (They had been) hiding what the country was really going through.”

Economy complicated in 2014

The national government has long touted its history in summer wage negotiations, which sprung from the late former president Néstor Kirchner’s re-energization of the union movement from 2003 onward.

But the union landscape has changed significantly since then. Both the CGT and CTA have fragmented on multiple occasions during the last decade, with Hugo Moyano forming an umbrella opposition CGT in 2012 and Antonio Caló staying firm with the government, all the while accompanied on the sidelines by another faction, the CGT Azul y Blanca led by Luis Ba-rrionuevo.

For its part, the CTA has been divided after an ill-fated internal election more than three years ago. State workers’ representative Micheli, opposed to the Kirchnerite administration, formed his own group at odds with Hugo Yasky, whose CTA is mainly comprised of teachers and tyremakers.

Current economic factors conditioning this round of wage negotiations are also slightly more complex than in previous years.

The economy is forecast to grow at a slightly lower rate this year — around 3.2 percent according to the UN’s Commission for Latin America.

What’s more, the recent devaluation of the peso as well as the response to reviewed inflationary data — which put January’s rate of inflation at 3.7 percent — are also having an impact on union expectations in wage demands, even as the smokescreen created by recent commercial speculation surrounding prices is not yet fully clear.

Some, like Micheli, have been capitalizing on new data by rounding off January’s inflation to an annual prediction of around 40 percent, though economists foresee monthly inflation settling down in comparison to January and February, from March onward.

Movement in the provinces

Resting on Friday’s national-level talks, are negotiations in the provinces. However, the slow arrival of a deal with national unions hasn’t stopped wage-related agitation from bearing an effect in some parts of the country.

The government of Córdoba province yesterday offered teachers an average wage hike of 31.6 percent. This would be payable in two parts, the first in February, with 20 percent, with entry level teachers taking away the biggest possible hikes, at 33.5 percent. Córdoba Educators’ Union (UEPC) head Juan Monserrat said yesterday his organization would be assessing the offer before Tuesday, when teachers are expected to take a joint position to the provincial Legislature

In neighbouring Santa Fe province, local government workers yesterday rejected an offer for a 26-percent wage hike and 1,000-peso Februrary bonus, responding with plans to strike today.

— Herald with DyN

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