Caracas, August 18, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government has announced the full payment of public sector education workers’ vacation bonuses following a string of protests across the country.
“The vacation bonus will be paid in one full installment to all [public education] workers next week”, confirmed Orlando Pérez, National Assembly (AN) deputy and president of the National Union Teachers Unitary Force (Sinafuma). The announcement was made on August 12 after a meeting with Education Minister Yelitze Santaella, Higher Education Minister Tibisay Lucena and Labor Minister Francisco Torrealba.
Pérez likewise called teachers and public sector unions to join the dialogue table set up by the Maduro administration to continue addressing the workers’ list of demands.
The Venezuelan government pays elementary, high school and university teachers as well as workers and administrative personnel from the public sector a vacation bonus in a single payment at the end of every school year in July. Retirees get a similar “recreational bonus.”
However, the National Budget Office (ONAPRE) controversially based this year’s bonus on the US $1.52 (7 bolivars) monthly minimum wage of 2021 instead of the $30 rate (126 bolivars) decreed by the Maduro government in March, arguing that a new labor agreement has not been signed yet. Additionally, the vacation bonus was divided into several payments with teachers receiving a meager 25 percent fraction in July.
The wide-reaching ONAPRE directive has been likened to Memorandum 2792, issued in 2018 which eliminated bargaining rights and flattened wage scales.
The cutbacks sparked massive labor protests across the country that led to authorities reinstalling the vacation bonus based on the latest wages and the replacement of ONAPRE’s leader Marco Polo Cosenza with Jennifer Quintero de Barrios, former National Treasurer of the Economy Ministry.
For their part, public sector trade unions celebrated the measure as a “first victory” but stated that protests would continue until authorities attend to all of their petitions.
“Thanks to the united and courageous mobilizations of the working class, the government will pay vacation and recreational bonuses in full. A first victory! Now we need to step up the struggle for adequate wages and pensions to live with dignity!,” the National Front of the Working Class Struggle (FNLCT) wrote on Twitter.
The June 2 Collective, gathering workers from the Barrio Adentro healthcare program, likewise issued a statement calling to organize workers’ assemblies in order to prepare for the next rallies. “We have to continue the struggle for full socioeconomic benefits, respect for collective bargaining agreements and respect for unions,” read the text.
The vacation bonus is only one of a long list of demands that have led to weeks of constant mobilizations in Caracas and other cities. Since early July, public sector pensioners, nurses, teachers, and university workers have been on the streets to reject a controversial ONAPRE directive that flattens salary scales, overrides collective bargaining rights and reduces a number of benefits, such as healthcare, loans and wage bonuses for experience or education level.
On July 12, marchers delivered a letter to the Labor Ministry demanding the withdrawal of the budget office’s directive and introduced a petition to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) for its immediate annulment. No ruling has been issued yet.
While the recent protests have been centered around demands to repel the wage and benefit cutbacks implemented by ONAPRE, organizations have also been demanding higher salaries to cover expensive living costs in Venezuela. The basic food basket is currently estimated at over $392 while public school teachers earn about $50 a month.
As a result, public sector workers have largely migrated to the private sector or abroad, or in other cases picked up several outside jobs or relied on remittances from relatives.
Under a severe economic crisis and crippling US sanctions, the Maduro government has turned to liberal measures in its efforts to jumpstart the economy. The strategy has included the removal of price and forex controls, tax breaks and increased private capital participation in state assets alongside heavily depressed wages, tightened public spending and de facto dollarization.
While the policies have widened the wage gap between public and private sector workers, they have also managed to decelerate inflation with the country registering single digits for nine consecutive months since September 2021. According to the central bank, the streak was broken in June with inflation reaching 11.4 percent but slowed down again to 7.5 percent in July.
In 2021, Venezuela’s GDP grew for the first time in seven years and growth forecasts for 2022 range between 8 and 20 percent. President Nicolás Maduro has vowed to gradually recover workers’ purchasing power as the economy continues to improve.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.