Chile: public employees win 10% raise

The 15 unions representing Chile’s government workers agreed on the night of Nov. 20 to end their four-day-old strike after the Senate approved a 10.4% raise earlier that day. The unions had demanded a 14.5% pay increase, arguing that the annual inflation rate had risen to 9.9% in October. Arturo Martinez, president of the Unified Workers Confederation (CUT), acknowledged that the raise “[m]aybe isn’t all we hoped for.” He noted that the settlement was between President Michelle Bachelet and the Congress, not the government and the unions, but said the salary increase was the result of the unionists’ mobilizations, and “today it’s possible to celebrate; the workers have triumphed.”

Some 400,000 government workers had observed a two-day strike on Nov. 11 and 12. When Bachelet’s government refused to offer more than 6.5%, the unions decided to call an open-ended strike starting Nov. 17. Public schools, customs offices, municipal governments, tax offices, public hospitals and clinics, and the judicial system were shut down. Garbage piled up on the streets, and exports were delayed, at a loss to the country of about $165 million a day. On Nov. 20 some 10,000 doctors joined the strike.

The increase will raise the average government worker’s pay next July 1 from 144,000 to 159,000 pesos a month (from $290.90 to $321.21). The workers will also get a one-time bonus—$156 for the best-paid workers but $312 for the others. The total increase will cost the government $1.648 billion a year. President Bachelet asked Congress to exclude top officials from the increase, but the legislators, who will be covered by the increase, said the exclusion would be unconstitutional. Bachelet promised to look for legal mechanisms to exempt the president and cabinet ministers from the raise. “I’m an adherent of the position that those of us who are in a relatively more privileged situation than others are the ones who should tighten our belts the most,” she said. (TeleSUR, Nov. 21; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 30

See our last post on Chile.