Venezuelan Educational Workers Sign New Collective Contract with Government

With 100% wage rises and extended social benefits, the agreement is described as “the best so far” by trade unionists.

By Paul Dobson
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Trade unionists from the educational sector celebrate the signing of the new collective contract in Miraflores presidential palace. (RadioDelSur).
Trade unionists from the educational sector celebrate the signing of the new collective contract in Miraflores presidential palace. (RadioDelSur).

Merida, April 12, 2018, (venezuelanalysis.com) – President Nicolas Maduro signed a new collective contract for the educational sector Tuesday in a move that has been hailed as a step forward for Venezuelan teachers and other educational workers.

The II Unitary Collective Contract 2018-2020, which comes into immediate force, was drawn up after months of negotiations between seventeen trade union federations and the national government. Maduro invited trade unionists and workers representatives into Miraflores presidential palace to witness the signing of the contract, which was televised on state TV.

It will benefit more than one million unionised and non-unionised workers, including 500,000 teachers, 79,000 administrative workers, 152,000 labourers, 67,000 kitchen workers, and 205,000 retired workers.

The contract, which comes amidst an ongoing economic downturn in Venezuela, contains an immediate 100% pay rise, as well as a series of new bonuses and measures of social protection, especially for disabled workers and pensioners.

“We are signing one of the most important collective contracts in the country,” Maduro said upon signing the document.

“This is a collective contract created via socialism, it is progressive, modern, advanced, based in the future,” he continued.

Whilst the contract covers the vast majority of educational workers, Maduro ordered that an effort be made to incorporate the small sector of workers not represented.

“This contract attempts to achieve unity of the workers, of the administrators, of the teachers, the students, and the communities, it is not just about workplace conditions, it is a collective contract which projects a humanist model,” explained Orlando Perez, president of the National Unitary Magisterial Force Union (SINAFUM), one of the many trade unions present in Miraflores presidential palace Tuesday.

Equally, Jose Garcia Torres from the National Union of Education Ministry Employees (SINAEPME) described the contract as “the best collective contract so far,” due to “the solidity of the unions”.

Increased wages and bonuses

Apart from the across the board 100% wage increase, the contract also programmes further raises of 40% in July and 40% in October this year.

In 2019, it guarantees a 60% wage increase in January, with a further 40% raise in April, July, and October.

In 2020, when the contract will be up for renewal, workers will see a 60% increase scheduled for January.

Following the current raise, a level 1 teacher working 40 academic hours a week will now receive a basic wage of 2.3 million bolivars (BsF) per month ($46 at the official exchange rate, $5 at the black market rate), whilst a level 6 teacher will receive 3.5 million BsF ($70 at the official rate, $8 at the black market rate). Coordinators are to be paid 50% more, sub-directors 60%, and directors 70% more.

The contract also assigns an additional 40% salary for disabled workers or those with disabled children and confirms numerous new bonuses such an Easter bonus and a Mother’s Day bonus of 920,000BsF each, the equivalent of roughly one week’s basic salary.

It also includes new measures to protect retired workers, such as the economic war bonus worth 40% of their final salaries and a recreational bonus worth 60 days of it. Similarly, retired workers will now benefit from a regular month bonus of 850,000BsF, and a one-off yearly bonus of 2,000,000BsF. Furthermore, pensioners will now be incorporated in many of the existing bonus schemes which previously did not apply to them, such as the food bonus.

The contract also increases the amounts of many existing bonuses, such as the food bonus, the Christmas bonus, which is now worth 3 months’ salary, the bonus for the purchase of school uniforms now worth 2,000,000BsF, the January 1 bonus and the beginning of the academic year bonus now both worth 920,000BsF, the marriage bonus, the new child bonus, the transport bonus, and the holiday bonus now worth 60 days’ salary.

In the medical sphere, which has particularly suffered from Venezuela’s current economic crisis, the contract increases funding and assigns a special fund for retired workers’ medical costs.

“Social security is important, the president announced that we will get more financing in [the medical] account to attend to those workers who need hospital services, surgery, maternity services, funeral services, or medicine,” explained Julio Vargas, president of the Unified Trade Union of Public Employees from the Education Ministry (SUNEPME).

The contract also approved the construction of 5,000 homes for teachers.

In academic affairs, the agreement expands enrollment capacity in free postgraduate specialisation programs to 200,000 and increases the recognition of paid teaching hours to 40 academic hours of 45 minutes each.

Previously, paid teaching hours were often set at 33 or 36 per week, which did not take into account time dedicated to training, under- or post-graduate studies, specialisation, community work, and work alongside student bodies. These elements will now be included in wages.

Despite efforts by Maduro’s government to protect Venezuela’s educational system from cutbacks caused by the drop in oil prices and the deep recession, educational institutions currently suffer from extremely low budgets and a lack of resources, with installations often clamouring for maintenance. Low wages, which have been consistently eroded by inflation, have also prompted many teachers to emigrate or search for additional supplementary incomes.

For his part, Education Minister Elias Jaua responded to those who claim that in light of the critical economic situation of the country, the contract does not go far enough to protect workers.

“There are those who say [the contract] is insufficient… we agree, but what can’t be denied is the willingness to struggle, to protect, and to equally distribute, which is what the Bolivarian revolution has brought to the working class,” he declared.

Falcon proposes dollarizing wages

The new collective contract comes as right-wing opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon unveiled his own proposal for university wage reform, which was published on the same day.

In it, Falcon’s economic advisor, former Torino Capital Chief Economist Francisco Rodriguez proposes to pay university professors in dollars, with wages ranging from $200 per month for an entry-level university instructor to $544 for a full professor. This, Rodriguez claims, amounts to a wage increase of up to 3228%, which he argues represents a “sustainable and responsible” measure.

Rodriguez made no mention of the rest of the educational workers which fall within the II Collective Contract, nor has he specified how the dollarized wage increases would be financed.

His proposal does, however, coincide with prior statements in which he has favoured dollarizing Venezuela’s economy, while Falcon has himself previously spoken of coordinating international bailout programs.