As the Mauricio Macri government looks at implementing effective savings measures for what will be a defining year for its political future, a wave of recent layoffs in the public sector is adding to concerns among unions about an imminent and large-scale cut to the public sector.
As many as 702 public sector workers have lost their jobs at the national government level since early December, while another 530 are at risk, Ambito Financiero reported in consultation with unions and national government ministries.
The most recent cuts were at the National Sanitation and Food Quality Service where 130 workers were fired. Meanwhile 28 workers were sacked last week from the Environment Ministry, 140 from the Energy and Mining Ministry and 10 from the Modernisation Ministry.
Other areas to have implemented job cuts recently were the Cabinet Chief’s Office where a total of 27 workers have been fired; the INCAA film institute which has lost 21 workers; and National Radio, where two people have been fired and another 64 are soon expected to go.
BETWEEN ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
In recent months, the ATE public workers union has made unsubstantiated claims that the Modernisation Ministry is pushing for at least 20,000 public sector jobs to be cut from a total of 154,000 — a 13-percent overall reduction.
“The information comes from a leak from within the Modernisation Ministry led by Andrés Ibarra who, to this day, has not come out to deny it. On the contrary, he has begun to implement the cuts”, ATE's Daniel Catalano said.
Twelve thousand public workers have been laid off since Mauricio Macri came to power in late 2015.
The government is keen on making big savings in the public sector as it looks at controlling Argentina's chronic inflation problem.
But it finds itself between a rock and a hard place: On the one hand, it perceives a growing urgency to deliver on economic promises before the 2019 presidential election (and despite recent backsteps like the reduction in the 2018-2020 inflation targets); on the other, it faces an ongoing confrontation with Argentina's powerful labour unions, many of which including ATE are linked to —and accused of responding to— the previous Kirchner government.
The passing of a pension reform bill has indicated what the government can expect from the unions as they mobilise in preparation for a labour reform package which is set to reach Congress in March.
In any case, and even in the most sensitive areas of its administration, the government seems determined to move forward.
Despite accusations of underfunding of the Armed Forces in the wake of the ARA San Juan tragedy, the Defence Ministry and Armed Forces last week sacked a combined 260 workers linked to the Military Manufacturing service (FM).
Jobs were cut at factories in Azul (Buenos Aires province); Río Tercero and Villa María (Córdoba province); San José de Jáchal (San Juan province) and Fray Luis Beltrán (Santa Fe province).
“They didn’t let our colleagues, who were on guard, into the factory today”, union representative Vanina Zurita told local radio. “They say an intervener will have to be assigned in order to let us in, but that’s as far as it (communication from authorities) goes”.
Another 10 workers from the Defence Ministry’s Human Rights and International Humanitarian sectors were also fired.
Job losses across the national government’s large public media service have also been particularly acute.
The most recent firings took place at the Open Digital Television (TDA) service’s CIARA unit, an internal content production team, where 180 workers were sacked.
Federal Media System Minister Hernán Lombardi confirmed the full closure of CIARA — which produces content for the Paka Paka, Encuentro and DeporTV stations — but denied any further cuts.
“The disarticulation of the CIARA unit does not put the Open Digital Television system (TDA) at risk”, he said via Twitter, dismissing union claims.
Meanwhile, union representatives at National Radio told alternative media outlets that authorities at the public broadcaster were phasing out programming of “Radio Nacional Clásica”, with just one programme in place until contracts expire in March.
The moves to reduce the size of Argentina’s public media come as the National Communications Unit (ENACOM) — a semi-autonomous regulatory body that was created by presidential decree in 2016 to overhaul the Fernandez de Kirchner government’s controversial 2009 Media Law — sacked 108 workers in early December.
CUTS AT PROVINCE LEVEL
The national government is not alone, as provincial administrations are also making moves to reduce the size of their public sector.
The Buenos Aires provincial government led by Macri ally, Governor María Eugenia Vidal, last week cut 116 jobs from Provincial Executive Unit (UEP) of the Culture Ministry, which refused to renew workers’ contracts.
Another 248 workers from that unit, which is to be disbanded, will be reassigned to other government roles.
The sacked workers, who have seized their place of work in protest, held a festival on Saturday and protested again Tuesday. The 15-year-old unit was responsible for public works programmes in schools and kindergartens.