BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s largest public sector unions staged a national strike Tuesday to demand pay increases amid rising inflation and higher utility rates that have eaten into workers’ purchasing power.
Thousands of workers, members of the Association of State Employees, or ATE, and two locals of the Argentine Workers Federation, or CTA, marched across Buenos Aires to demand pay hikes.
“We came to protest so they rehire fired workers, so they open the collective bargaining talks and then we can talk about wages,” ATE Capital secretary-general Daniel Catalano told EFE, adding that the government worked “for groups with economic power and not for the workers.”
Public employees have lost “12 percent of their pay” since President Mauricio Macri took office in December due to higher inflation and hikes in utility rates approved by the government in recent months, Catalano said.
The government raised electricity rates up to 600 percent, water rates more than 300 percent and natural gas prices up to 400 percent in the first six months of this year, but the Supreme Court later annulled the increases.
The approximately 17 percent pay hikes included in the 2017 budget are inadequate, the labor leader said.
Cabinet chief Marcos Peña, for his part, said the Macri administration was committed to “improving a situation that has been precarious for many years” and urged union members not to block streets.
Members of grassroots organizations, meanwhile, set up a camp in the iconic Plaza de Mayo across from the Casa Rosada presidential palace to protest the increases in utility rates.