Bitter pay disputes grip Argentina and Peru

September 16, 2005

University lecturers in two South American countries are embroiled in deep-rooted disputes with their governments.

In Argentina, university teachers are divided about whether to continue with strikes paralysing higher education after the latest pay talks with the Government.

In Peru, a national strike over pay has brought the public university system to a virtual halt. Students fear the academic year could be lost.

For more than two months, a total of 32 institutions across Peru have refused to open their doors to more than 300,000 students.

Peruvian professors' average monthly salary is 460 soles (£80).

Victor Aguilar, president of the National Federation of University Teachers, has submitted a proposal to the Government requesting annual increases of 30 per cent until 2008. The Government has offered 10 per cent.

Anger has been heightened by the Government's failure to deliver on a commitment made in July by Peru's President, Alejandro Toledo, a Stanford-educated economist and former professor, that professors' earnings would match those of judicial professionals - requiring a threefold increase in their salaries. It is estimated that the proposal would cost some 452 million soles.

In August, the industrial action turned into a hunger strike. Several teachers were admitted to hospitals for dehydration and poor health. In meetings with teachers' leaders, the Ministry of Education said it would raise salaries for the country's 108,000 academics by 22 to 37 per cent.

Meanwhile, Argentinian trade unions are pushing for pay increases of up to 70 per cent to return academics to their standard of living before the 2002 economic crisis.

University teachers have been taking increasingly militant action this year to try to force the Government's hand. Students at the National University of C"rdoba, one of the most important in Argentina, have had no classes for five weeks. Recently, 20,000 students and lecturers marched through the city demanding better pay for academics.

There have also been one-day strikes and sit-ins at state universities, including the University of Buenos Aires and the National University of La Plata. Some 5,000 students and academics recently protested in Buenos Aires.

Parliamentary elections are due next month, increasing the politicised atmosphere on campuses.

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