Mérida, July 14, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan public sector trade unions rallied on Tuesday to demand higher salaries and respect for labor rights.
The march in central Caracas took aim at a directive issued by the country’s National Budget Office (ONAPRE), a body belonging to the finance ministry that establishes budgets for state institutions.
The directive in question overrides a number of collective bargaining rights, including 50 percent cuts to wage bonuses for experience or education level, and flattens salary scales. The measure has been likened to the 2018 Memorandum 2792.
Tuesday’s mobilization, which gathered hundreds of workers, came on the heels of several similar protests across the country. Marchers delivered a letter to the Labor Ministry demanding the withdrawal of the ONAPRE changes.
“We are delivering a document undersigned by a number of labor organizations calling for the removal of this instrument that disrespects all collective bargaining agreements,” said Eduardo Torres, spokesman from the so-called National Union Coalition. “We are outraged about these salary cuts.”
The protesters then marched to the Supreme Court headquarters to protest the alleged unconstitutional nature of the wage and benefit cutbacks.
Public sector pensioners, nurses, teachers and university workers were some of the sectors with a strong presence at the rally. Another union that took part in the march represented workers from SUPRA, the waste management company in Caracas.
“The working-class has always stood by President Maduro, and SUPRA has always fulfilled its role cleaning the streets,” worker Graciela Carreño told reporters. “We urge the president to take a position on this matter.”
The SUPRA union has staged a number of protests in recent weeks and temporarily occupied the municipal company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Caracas. Worker spokespeople accuse the SUPRA board of not fulfilling agreements and reject a proposed salary reduction.
Eduardo Sánchez, spokesman from the Venezuelan Central University (UCV) workers’ union SINATRA, told Venezuelanalysis that the ONAPRE plans are “a dreadful policy” that places workers in “terrible conditions,” forcing them to pick up second jobs or leave the public sector altogether.
“It is no use to have a very beautiful Constitution if it is not going to be respected,” he explained. “These adjustments simply discard elements that have been ratified in collective bargaining contracts. In the case of university workers we are talking about 40-70 percent cuts to real wages.”
Sánchez went on to add that the recent removal of the new pay scales for the Defense Ministry and Armed Forces is a “clear double standard” that should be cause for the Supreme Court to dismiss the ONAPRE directive across the board.
Though Tuesday’s protest was centered around demands to repel the latest salary restructuring plans, participants also drew attention to other working-class issues. These included the high cost of living compared to current wages and the growing criminalization of trade unionists.
A number of private sector unions took part in the demonstration as well, claiming that some companies are likewise introducing the ONAPRE scales.
The controversial adjustments were introduced alongside a near twentyfold minimum wage hike decreed by the Maduro government in March.
The raise, which set public sector minimum salaries at around US $30 a month, was the first in many months as authorities looked to bring inflation under control. With Venezuela registering GDP growth last year for the first time in seven years, Maduro vowed that continued economic improvement will translate into a gradual recovery of workers’ purchasing power.
The administration has largely turned to liberal measures in its efforts to jumpstart the nation’s economy under wide-reaching US sanctions. Policies have included lifted price and forex controls, tax breaks and increased private sector participation in state corporations.
However, initiatives such as the recently approved Special Economic Zones law have also sparked fierce debate amidst Chavista ranks. Advocates claim they are necessary steps to boost economic recovery, while critics argue they reverse key policies introduced under the former Hugo Chávez governments.