ASUNCION – Public school teachers camped out in a plaza across from the Paraguayan Congress learned on Wednesday that lawmakers rejected the pay hikes proposed by union leaders and approved the smaller increase called for by the government.
The Budget Committee of the lower house of Congress voted in favor of the 12 percent pay increase proposed by the government effective Jan. 1.
The teachers union had called for a 12 percent pay increase in January 2018 and another 8 percent wage hike in July, giving educators a total salary boost of 20 percent.
Teachers listened to the vote over a public address system in the Plaza de Armas, where they camped on Tuesday following a huge march through downtown Asuncion.
The pay increases were included in the 2018 national budget proposed by President Horacio Cartes’s administration.
UNE-SN education union representative Eladio Benitez told EFE that the teachers would work with the Senate, which will vote on the budget in two weeks, to get the pay hike.
“If we stumble in the Chamber of Deputies today, we’re going to take our request to the Senate, where we believe there may be more room to seriously debate” the salary proposal, Benitez said.
A large increase in education spending is needed in Paraguay, the country with the lowest investment in the sector in South America, Benitez said.
“UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is talking about 8.5 percent (of GDP) as the minimum investment in education. At 8.5 percent, you can talk about quality education. We’re investing just 3.7 percent (of GDP), that’s not even half of what we should be investing,” Benitez said.
Union leaders met with lawmakers in the weeks before the budget debate to press their demands.
Last week, union leaders said they would be comfortable with a compromise one-time pay hike of 16 percent, but they expressed confidence that the meetings with legislators would bear fruit.
On Sept. 1, Cartes said his administration planned to spend more than $100 million over the next four years to improve teacher pay.