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Teachers’ unions: strike will continue

Ombudsman insists schools must open tomorrow, workers dismiss legitimacy of ruling

26 Mar 14

Teachers in Buenos Aires province are unlikely to heed a ruling by the Administrative Court in La Plata City that ordered the suspension of their two-week-long strike action after workers failed to reach an agreement with the Daniel Scioli provincial administration.

The court’s decision was announced a day after provincial Ombudsman Carlos Bonicatto requested an injunction to begin classes as soon as possible so as to respect “the constitutional right to education.”

Yesterday, Bonicatto said that there is “no doubt” that classes will begin. But teachers begged to differ.

“Classes will not begin on Tuesday,” Miguel Ángel Díaz, head of the UDOCBA union, told radio programme El Fin de la Metáfora. “We’re going to hold an assembly and inform (fellow teachers) of the current situation.”

Yesterday afternoon, teachers from the FEB and SUTEBA unions confirmed the continuity of the strike action and said they had “not been notified” of the ruling signed by Judge Francisco Terrier.

For his part, provincial Labour Minister Oscar Cuartango said that “the ball is now in the unions’ court” and that teachers “need to decide whether they will comply with the ruling or step outside the law.”

‘Classes must begin’

The first to speak was Bonicatto, who last week had presented an injunction requesting teachers’ unions “compromise their right to strike in order to not restrict the right to education.”

Yesterday, the provincial Ombudsman was emphatic when he said that classes must begin tomorrow.

“I’m telling every single teacher in Buenos Aires province that on Tuesday 25 the province’s educational system will begin to function, that the (school) year will begin,” he said.

“We are taking every measure possible in order to notifiy all teachers,” the official explained. “The ruling will lift the strike and as a result classes have to begin, with no negative effect on wage negotiations. Classes will start on Tuesday, no matter what. This is not an administrative order — it’s a judicial ruling.”

‘Forced to starve’

Minutes later, on the same radio station, Díaz expressed his doubts about the legitimacy of the ruling that was issued over the weekend.

“We are now forced to starve to death and remain under the poverty line,” the union leader said. “There’s an alarming decrease in salaries. People are fed up, they cannot make ends meet with their wages.”

According to Díaz — who is part of the anti-government CGT umbrella union led by Hugo Moyano — some teachers “may end up attending classes” but most workers will not.

Hours later, SUTEBA and FEB leaders published a news release in which they “ratified” the continuity of the strike action, while SUTEBA teachers from the faction opposed to union head Roberto Baradel also rejected the ruling by deeming it an “outrageous” decision.

“It attacks the workers’ right to strike,” Nathalia González, a SUTEBA leader from the Greater Buenos Aires district of La Matanza, said yesterday.

“The resolution is clearly illegal and invalid,” she said.

Hikes ‘insufficient’

Cuartango, the local Labour minister, acknowledged that he was “personally unable to guarantee” the beginning of the school year and said that unions are to be held responsible if teachers fail to return to classes tomorrow.

“If they don’t comply with the ruling, we will be facing a serious institutional crisis,” the provincial official said.

More than 3.5 million students have been affected by 13 days of a strike staged by teachers, who have been involved in a fierce standoff with the Scioli administration over pay increases for 2014.

Over the past few days, Baradel has rejected accusations that the union was being intransigent and criticized the wage hike by decree of the Scioli administration, arguing that it was not “a 30.9-percent increase” because the raise was applicable only to the lowest-paid teachers — and that the average increase was actually of approximately 26 percent.

As the Herald reported last week, the alleged 30.9-percent hike offered by the provincial administration will only reach some primary school teachers — other workers will receive hikes of between 20 and 22 percent until the province pays a second installment in August.

Several unions have expressed concern that this year’s inflation rate would be higher than 35 percent, especially after January’s steep devaluation of the peso, and that accepting moderate wage increases would result in a loss of their purchasing power.

Herald with DyN