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October 22, 2014
Monday, July 21, 2014

Unions join forces to battle income tax

SMATA union workers are seen staging a protest in downtown Buenos Aires.

Government faces off with aligned unions who have united against former enemies on levy

After more signs last week of growing agitation from within the union movement, the pro-government CGT umbrella union led by Antonio Caló will meet today with Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich to discuss the income tax exemption ceiling, among others issues so far unconfirmed by the leader of the metal workers’ splinter group.

Despite the generally friendly relationship between Caló and the Kirchnerite government, the talks come as the union movement has seen itself unify on several traditional issues like ongoing suspensions and salary hikes in the auto industry as well as the minimum wage, after a lengthy period of division based predominantly on political alliances.

Union figures of varying proximity to the government have been urging for talks on the minimum wage and on the precarious situation facing the auto industry, which has grown riddled with suspensions amid this year’s declining car sales. Vehicle production dropped 36 percent in May compared to the same month last year, while new car sales fell 40.9 percent, the ADEFA industry group reported.

The pro-government CTA led by Hugo Yasky is even going as far as announcing a protest on August 4 to demand income tax reform.

“The minimum wage must go up a few percentage points from the 30 percent average” wage increase granted during this year’s collective wage negotiations, said Ricardo Pignanelli, head of the Mechanics and Transport Sector Union (SMATA), who claimed “12,000 workers are suspended across the country” in the auto industry on four- to six-day suspensions.

“The negotiations are almost over for all unions, so an average increase should be applied to the minimum wage, at the least so our colleagues making the minimum wage can maintain their purchasing power,” he added, in an interview yesterday with the Toma y Daca radio programme.

The minimum wage was last increased in February, upon the second installment of the government’s planned hike, to 3,600 pesos.

According to Defence Minister Agustín Rossi, the government’s Salary Council is planning a meeting.

“In the coming days, the Salary Council will meet for review,” he said yesterday.

Pignanelli yesterday urged for action on under-the-table labour, saying another topic of discussion “should be legalizing employment because it will help us increase basic wages.” He also expressed his concern for workers in the auto industry given the drop in sales and consequently in production.

“In terms of suspensions, the only firm that continues suspensions in the City and Greater Buenos Aires is Volkswagen, with four- to five-day suspensions because of a problem in Brazil, and it’s likely that another to face problems this week is Honda, which has one shift a week at the moment,” Pignanelli said.

On a similar note, Caló had first called for a meeting with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last week, saying “I have almost 10,000 suspended workers.” He urged for discussions on a “complete agenda” of topics.

A Caló CGT representative warned last the group’s relationship with the government could turn sour if its demands are not adequately met. “If the response (from the government) isn’t sufficient, then relations will harden,” said UDA teachers’ union head Sergio Romero.

Common ground

While both Caló and the government have talked up their “willingness to dialogue,” as Capitanich put it last week, the forwardness with which the pro-government union sector has urged for talks on traditional union issues has nurtured some rare common ground between a divided union movement, with the opposition CGT groups led by Hugo Moyano and Luis Barrionuevo and the opposition CTA of Pablo Micheli on one hand, and their pro-government counterparts, Caló and his CGT, and Hugo Yasky and his CTA, on the other.

Earlier in the year, several members of Caló’s CGT joined Moyano and Barrionuevo in a nationwide protest against the government, with Roberto Fernández’ bus drivers group and Omar Maturano’s UTA transport group walking off the job and helping to grind the country’s public transport system to a halt on April 9.

Various union leaders from both sides of the divide have been rallying behind demands to raise the income tax exemption ceiling, currently at 15,000 pesos.

Caló last week claimed that “when they take money from a worker’s hip pocket, they get angry.”

“I, as a representative of workers, am also angry,” he charged.

On similar terms with the government, Yasky’s CTA will protest on August 4 in front of Congress to demand amendments to the income tax. He said last week it hoped to ensure “income tax is not applied to yearly bonuses.” Meanwhile, the opposition CTA led by Pablo Micheli last week called for a meeting with Labour Minister Carlos Tomada to “discuss a number of fundamentally important issues” including amendments to the income tax.

Herald staff with DyN

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