SANTIAGO – Public employees in Chile staged a strike and marched Thursday to demand 7.5 percent pay increases, well above the 2.9 percent wage hikes offered by the government.
The strike, which organizers said had 90 percent support among public sector workers, followed weeks of fruitless negotiations between officials and 15 unions representing government employees.
The unions agreed to provide skeleton staffs at different agencies to deal with emergencies.
Thousands of workers took to the streets of Santiago in a peaceful protest aimed at putting pressure on government negotiators to accept higher pay increases.
Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes, who is responsible for the negotiations on the government side, should soften his position, Raul de la Puente, president of the National Finance Employees Association, said.
Valdes contends that Chile’s slow economic growth, projected at about 2 percent this year, does not justify big pay raises.
De la Puente, for his part, said the inflation rate was projected to be 3.4 percent this year, leaving workers with a loss of purchasing power if they accept the government’s offer of a 2.9 percent wage hike.
Chile’s economy is not in a crisis and Valdes should understand that “we are not willing to accept whatever they offer us,” De la Puente said.
Public sector collective bargaining negotiations have an effect on the private sector, the union leader said.
“The government should do more than look at the businessmen, it should look at the workers,” De la Puente said.