BUENOS AIRES – Argentine teachers started a 48-hour strike to demand better pay and an increase in the public education budget just as the school year began, and called marches and acts of protest around the country.
Participation is “more than 85 percent, it’s a powerful strike,” Alejandro Demichelis, press secretary of the Education Workers Confederation (CTERA), the country’s largest teachers’ union, told EFE.
In a statement in front of Congress in Buenos Aires, from where hundreds of the protesters marched Monday morning to the Education Ministry, Demichelis complained that the Mauricio Macri administration “does not discuss, does not invest in education, undercuts the budget and has eliminated educational programs,” which means that teachers face “more adjustments all the time.”
“It’s a government absent from education, a government uninterested in public schools,” he said.
Besides the budget cutbacks, the teachers complain that last January the government eliminated national collective bargaining, the negotiation they had maintained with the Education Ministry to establish a minimum wage across the country. That amount is now adjusted by local governments according to their means.
A 20 percent increase above the existing minimum wage, the equivalent of 11,400 pesos ($553), has been established by unilateral decree.
On that basis, in the city of Buenos Aires the ruling party government proposed a raise of 12 percent, while Buenos Aires province put it at 15 percent, in line with the increases offered by different local governments run by a number of different parties around the country.
Secretary Vanesa Gagliardi of Ademys, the main educational union of Buenos Aires, denounced in a statement to EFE that teachers have lost 15 percent of their purchasing power between 2016-2017 and, according to their estimates, they’ll lose another 10 percent this year.
She told EFE that being paid a decent wage is very important because, in order be sure of “quality” in public education, teachers have to contribute a lot of work that goes unpaid, like preparing classes, correcting papers” and talking to students’ parents.
“When we speak of educational quality, it’s important to know that we teachers, in order to make it to the end of the month, have to work double or triple shifts,” Gagliardi said, before leaving to take part in another protest at one of the busiest intersections in Buenos Aires.