By Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
LA PAZ, Bolivia – Public workers, including teachers and health service providers, throughout Bolivia continue to strike in protest of the recent passage of Supreme Decree 1126. The newly-passed decree mandates that the previous 6-hour work day be increased to an 8-hour work day, with no increase in salary, for those in the public sector.
The strike began on March 28, and just last week, a number of the groups began hunger strikes. News sources in Bolivia report that close to 500 workers have joined in on the national hunger strikes. Saúl Azcárraga, the leader of the Federation of Urban Teachers expressed the hunger strikers stance from a small school room in La Paz.
“Not a single drop of water nor food will enter their room. We assume this measure because in 2010 the government signed an agreement about salaries and hours but is not honoring the agreement,” Azcárraga said.
Rural teachers in Bolivia currently make almost twice the amount of an urban teacher. In 2010 the Morale’s administration agreed to work to equalize pay rates progressively; but almost no steps to achieve this were taken.
Medical workers in state facilities echo similar concerns. They are outraged over the labour reforms by President Evo Morales because they violate earlier agreements made in the 1970s that established this 6-hour day for them. Currently, Bolivian public sector doctors make roughly $200 a week, receive no benefits, no pension, and no overtime pay.
President for the Committee of Doctors on Strike, Francisco Sanchez, emphasized that those in the medical profession have previously asked and presented reasonable arguments for their incorporation into the General Labour Act. Each time the government refuses to listen.
“We workers have always said that we do not agree to work eight hours of the working day . . . . Unfortunately, the authorities do not take this request seriously, or the arguments we give them. For this reason, in a situation of despair, not knowing what else to do, we have taken this extreme measure, the hunger strike, to raise awareness in front of the authorities,” said Sanchez.
Juan Carlos Calvimontes, the Minister of Health, maintains that the strike is “illegal.” Calvimontes is calling for the docking of doctors pay during the time that they are on strike. On March 31 the protestors hosted a “White Apron” March through downtown La Paz and burned an effigy of Calvimontes while calling for a repeal of the decree.
President Morales expressed his unwillingness to consider revoking the decree in a conference held on Tuesday last week. Morales said that the decree was not his own initiative but one proposed at the Plurinational Social Meeting and supported by the Bolivian people.
On Tuesday, Morales emphasized the government’s firm stance that any worker’s who choose to strike are acting illegally. Morales also announced that workers will have their pay reduced for each day that they take to the streets in protest.
“[A] day worked, a day paid, he who doesn’t work does not get paid,” said Morales.
For more information, please see;
NTN24 News – More Than 500 Public Workers Join Bolivian Hunger Strike – 19 April 2012
Bolivia Weekly – Striking Medical Workers Will Get no Pay – 18 April 2012
Bolivia Weekly – Doctors and Teachers on Strike – 17 April 2012
Latino Life – Bolivia: Doctors and Teachers go on Strike – 16 April 2012
World Socialist Web Site – Bolivian Doctors and Health Workers Strike, Demonstrate Against Decree – 3 April 2012