March 23, 2004, Caracas—Over the past week, leaders of Venezuela’s opposition have been accusing the government of pursuing a systematic policy of firing public employees who signed the referendum against President Chavez. Government officials, however, deny the charges, saying that not a single case has been reported to the Labor Ministry and that, instead, there were many cases filed of private sector workers who were forced to sign the recall referendum petition, lest they be fired.
Health Minister says there will be no political retaliation
Adding fire to the opposition’s charges were comments by the Health and Social Development Minister, Roger Capella, who said “all those who have signed to activate the recall referendum against President Chavez should be fired from the Health Ministry.” He added that anyone who conspires against the government should not be working for the government.
A few days later, Capella retracted his remarks by saying that they were merely a personal opinion and not a matter of Ministry policy and that “the State is absolutely respectful of the positions of each and every one of its workers. One should not confuse my particular position on this with that of the State.” He added, “there will be no retaliation against those who have a political position that is different from that of the national government.” Capella’s statements were repudiated by the opposition but also by sectors who support Chavez.
Venezuela’s Medical Federation, which has been opposed to the Chavez government for a long time, said that the minister would be considered “persona non-grata.” The federation’s president also said that fourteen doctors from one of the city’s main public hospitals had been fired for apparently signing the referendum petition.
Labor ministry says that there have been no political firings on the part of the government
Labor minister Maria Cristina Iglesias categorically denied that public sector workers were being fired or intimidated for having signed the recall referendum petition. She said that both public and private sector employers cannot take any actions of political retaliation, since the constitution prohibits this. According to her, none of the ministry’s labor inspection offices have any complaints been filed to the effect that public sector workers were being fired for signing the petition.
Rather, she said, that so far 387 accusations have been filed by private sector workers against employers who threatened to fire them or actually did fire them, for not signing the recall referendum petition. Of these accusations, only 195 were processed because the rest were not accompanied with sufficient information for processing the case. So far 19 of those who were fired had to be rehired.
State oil industry president says accusations of 7,000 firings in oil industry are a “big lie”Ali Rodriguez, president of the state oil company PDVSA, said that the opposition’s claim that 7,000 oil industry workers had been or are about to be fired is “totally false.” He added that in the course of normal operations workers are hired and fired all the time, something which is not unusual for a company that now employs about 18,000. But the cause for any firings will not be employees’ political positions, as long as they are acting “within the limits established by the constitution and the law, which means not to damage the company, something that no company in the world would accept.”