On March 5, 2019, Mr. Juan Guaidó, a deputy who claims to be the interim president of Venezuela, met with heads of some unions of public employees in the country, with the aim of achieving staggered strikes in public institutions in the coming days.
If you live in another country, it is very likely that you will begin to read news in the coming days about the precariousness, about the sadness, about how horrible it is to be a public worker in Venezuela, in order to justify these staggered strikes.
Guaidó and the media that support him want to make things look very simple: we lived in a happy and paradisiacal environment until Chavez and Maduro arrived. And then, the country became hell. So we must “put an end to the usurpation” and depose Maduro, and everything will be happy again as before. Or at least that’s what they say.
Actually, things in the public sector have always been complicated. Very complicated. And Venezuela has been living for 5 or 6 years a series of pressures, sanctions, blockades and measures in order to pressure Nicolás Maduro to resign. We call it “economic war”, a term that some people despise due to overuse, but that does not stop making sense.
No one can deny that many of the actions that are being carried out against our country, including Guaidó’s own actions, appear in the Gené Sharp manual for color revolutions, and many of these measures are openly recognized by the US government, which comes after Venezuela as it did before with Iraq, Libya and other oil nations. With this I do not mean that the government of Nicolás Maduro is perfect or that there are no corrupt and inefficient officials who are partly to blame for what is happening, but we must be clear about the levels of responsibility in all this.
Now, let’s try to understand some things in our State and in our country.
In Venezuela there are about 3 million public employees. Some institutions, particularly the new ones, do not have unions. There are institutions that have dozens of different unions, divided according to types of workers (employees, workers, technicians, etc.), geographical regions, attached entities, etc. In many places, trade unions fulfill mainly demands. But in certain old institutions, unions act as mafias and are very dangerous.
It is no secret that many unions are opposition controlled. I am rather surprised by the low attendance of trade unionists in the meeting with Guaidó, as their attendence fit in the auditorium of the College of Engineers, with a capacity of about 200 people.
I would have expected many more due to the important number of unions controlled by opposition activists. It is not surprising, on the other hand, that most of the attending trade unionists have an average age above 50 years.
In Venezuela, trade unionists are protected by law and can not be dismissed.
But you do not have to be a trade unionist to be protected. In Venezuela, a decree of labor immobility established by the then President Hugo Chávez, which Nicolás Maduro has renewed every year, is in force. The decree prevents anyone from being fired unjustifiably.
A worker can be fired, but the dismissal must have valid causes. For example: if a person missed 3 days in a month without justification, they can be fired but a procedure must be followed in the Ministry of Labor where the person is entitled to a defense; if the person was absent for medical reasons or other justified reason, there you can present the respective certificates.
To give you an example: A few years ago, a Culture Minister ordered the unjustified dismissal of some 20 Ministry security workers. The workers filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor, which ordered their reinstatement but the then minister refused. Months later the minister was changed (the culture ministers are usually changed every year), and the new minister did obey the decision of the Ministry of Labor. The institution had to re-enroll them and pay the “fallen wages” (the payment of their salaries for all the time they were unjustifiably dismissed, which was almost a year). This is a small example of the protection that public employees have.
Of course, there are also injustices, bad treatment, officials that become corrupt. Months later I learned of the case of another worker of the same ministry, who was fired unjustly, and there was no way for him to be supported, not even because the case was publicly denounced. Things work best when workers are many and organize themselves.
Anyway, it is important to remember that one of the most important achievements of President Hugo Chávez was the approval of the Labor, Workers Act (LOTTT), which he signed on April 30, 2012 and that achieved a huge number of demands for public and private employees.
Guaidó without interest in stopping private companies
On the other hand, Guaidó is focusing on calling a strike in public institutions. It seems private enterprise is not interested in making strikes, unlike what happened in 2002-2003, during the oil-business strike trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez.
Do not misunderstand me: the private sector is supporting Guaidó in his adventures, but they do it in a different way: in my opinion, they are the protagonists of unjustified price increases in food, hyperinflation and the fixing of prices of national products according to the parallel dollar, among many other measures that keep the population at high levels of stress. They are an integral part of the economic war.
Salaries in public institutions
On the other hand, it is true that salaries in public institutions are low (from 18 thousand to 38 thousand bolivars per month, the equivalent of 6 to 12 dollars per month).
The daily income of a public employee is between 900 and 1,800 bolivars per day. It is so small, that an informal vendor who sells sweets and candies in the Metro can make that amount of money in less than an hour. In fact, many public employees do extra work at the end of their workday in order to bring extra income to their families.
But it is also true that most public institutions give their workers boxes of food or bags of food (CLAP or similar). These are support that is delivered during this situation of economic war They are usually delivered every month, although sometimes there are flaws in their regularity.
If the public employees did not receive these boxes and we had to buy those foods in supermarkets, they would cost us between 60 thousand and 90 thousand bolivares per month (between 20 to 30 dollars per month). I know workers that have not resigned basically because of the food boxes, and I also know that some institutions, when they have had logistical problems with the boxes and have not been able to deliver them for a month or two, are faced with mass resignation of many of its workers, who get jobs in other institutions or in private companies.
On the other hand, last December many public institutions supported their employees with combos of special foods (meat, chicken and ingredients for typical Christmas food) and in August / September when the school year begins, they also mobilized and delivered special bonuses so that parents could buy part of the school supplies for their children.
Books, uniforms and backpacks for public school students are free, regardless of whether their parents are public employees or not.
There are a few institutions that have transportation for those who live in towns near Caracas, such as Guarenas, Guatire or Los Teques and San Antonio de los Altos, because the cost of public transportation to these places has become excessive and consumes most of the monthly salary. Other institutions have made arrangements for those who live far away, so that they can work from their homes and go to the headquarters of the institution one or two days a week only.
And we must not forget to mention that, although in Venezuela we experienced a very strong hyperinflation (which has been halted for two weeks, coinciding with Guaido’s exit from the country), the government has also had a policy of raising salaries every two months, grant bonuses through the Homeland System and provide a fortnight’s advance when inflation has increased more, which has helped public workers to withstand inflation’s impact.
Health and medical services
There are public institutions that have medical services for their workers (clinics, dispensaries and small emergency services). There are some that have free cafeteria and offer lunches at preferential prices.
It must also be said that there are discomforts among public employees because, five years ago, their medical insurance allowed them and their family members to be seen in private clinics (of better quality than public hospitals), to get care for emergencies, to be able to give birth in one of these clinics and would even pay for major surgical operations in these private establishments.
However, as a result of the economic crisis, the coverage of medical insurance for public employees has dropped enormously: they barely pay for a couple of medical consultations per year, which has forced public employees to have to see and care for themselves in public hospitals and other public establishments, which in turn are also being affected by the shortage and theft of medicines and medical implements, and by having to serve 3 million public employees previously served in the private system.
But we must also recognize that public institutions paid a monstrous amount of money to insurers and private clinics. In 2010, according to figures from the then Deputy Rafael Ríos, the State paid 9 billion bolivares per year to the health insurance of 2 million public employees, while the budget for the entire National Public Health System was 14 billion bolivars (see https://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a106428.html ). This terrible disproportion was very criticized by the revolutionaries.
I myself witnessed how the doctors of the private clinics, upon learning that one was an insured public employee, increased the bill by placing exams and procedures that were never done in order to charge the insurance more. The clinics and private insurers lived by stealing and plundering the State (in 2011 it was estimated that 80% of the income of private clinics came from the state, see http://www.psuv.org.ve/opiniones/opinion/control- prices-clinicas-privados-ya / ) , and many doctors, while they treated you talking about Chávez’s pestilences, made similar or worse scams than those that they accused the Bolivarian government of committing.
In response, the government began to create public insurers, self-administered services (offices within public institutions to administer clinical expenses and skip to private insurers), created tables or scales of what each medical service provided by private clinics should cost to prevent them from charging more than the bill, and they had doctors checking the bills for irregularities. However, when these measures were advanced, we were seized by the death of Chávez and the economic war, paralyzing all these efforts.
Hence, this serious contingency that we are experiencing is also an opportunity to ask ourselves, once we begin to recover economically, if we have to revive that perverse system of insurers and private clinics, or if we should rather create a public health system of quality, one that works very well for all Venezuelans and not only for public employees.
Another problem that brought us this crisis was the flattening of salary scales, which has annoyed many unions.
Let’s explain it:
President Maduro, when carrying out the monetary reconversion of August 2018, made an important increase in the minimum wage: He raised it from 51 sovereign bolivars to 1,800 sovereign bolivars. The salary increase was 3,364 percent.
This in principle was very good, but on the other hand, the increase in the scales was not linear.
It is important to explain that, in public institutions, there is a salary scale according to the position of each worker, their responsibility, their academic level, courses and seniority within the institution, to motivate you to make a career within the institution and train professionally.
To give an example: when I joined the Ministry of Culture in 2009, the director of my area earned 5 times more than me.
In August 2018, when the increase was decreed, since the government could not pay a linear increase of 3,364 percent to all public employees, it was decided that the workers who earned more would be increased less, so that the difference between the who earned minimum wage and who earned the most ended up being 10 or 20 percent.
This, obviously, has annoyed some unions, both chavistas and opposition, who feel that the struggles for which they struggled for years disappeared or were lost. The fact that the salary scales are so close is also causing a desertion of the professionals and people with university level education who are much better remunerated in the private company.
There are also complaints about the way in which the “benefits” of public employees disappeared, that is, the payment that was accumulated year after year of work, and that would be deposited on the day we retire or leave the institution. Generally, the benefits were equivalent to many months of salary. In some cases, it was enough to buy a motorcycle or a used car. Those who retired after working 30 years in an institution, received often enough for the down payment of a home. And we are talking about 5 years ago. But the rapid hyperinflation and the little interest in finding a way to protect these savings caused them to dissolve in a matter of weeks. Months of salary became, in a matter of days, the equivalent of a kilo of cheese.
However, although without a doubt as public employees all this has annoyed us, it is also a fact that we live in a very special moment due to the harassment we are experiencing as a nation from abroad. We know that the culprit of all these evils is not Maduro, as some of them try to make it in a simplistic way. We continue to work hard in our institutions, looking forward to this economic war situation ending and to be able to resume the path that Hugo Chávez marked.
Also a bit unfortunate is the selfish attitude of some unions, who think only to recover the demands they achieved, and not in those that have been lost throughout the Public Administration as a result of economic war. Hopefully the measures taken by the government as the problems of the country are solved, will be altogether for the entire Public Administration, and not only for the unions that demonstrate more power or in the most compromised institutions.
Private companies and workers
On the other hand, it is also true that the employees and workers of private companies have fairly low salaries, particularly those who are bachelors and have no professional training, and in the vast majority of cases they don’t receive bags of food or other aid.
I have written articles in the past about how employees of restaurants, pizzerias and franchises serve dishes that cost more than they earn for a full month’s salary, and generally have no way to claim or unionize.
A famous fried chicken restaurant (private company), which has advertising on subscription television that must be paid in dollars, currently sells its food with these prices:
- 14 thousand bolivares each plate with two pieces of chicken, French fries and a glass of soft drink
- 16 thousand bolivares each plate with three pieces of chicken, French fries and a glass of soft drink
However, the monthly salary of the workers of this franchise is barely a little higher than the legal minimum wage of Bs. 18 thousand. Although these workers may receive some additional benefits, such as the possibility of having lunch in the restaurant, this does not compare with a box of food products, such as the one delivered in public institutions.
As for the cost of the raw material of these restaurants, we can give some retail prices to give the reader an idea: the whole raw chicken costs Bs. 3,800 per kilo, the potatoes are sold at 4 thousand bolivars per kilo and one bottle of 2-liter soda is sold in supermarkets at Bs. 5 thousand. Wholesale prices should be much lower.
It is obvious that the profit margin of these restaurants is quite large. Most people agree that, if these restaurants wanted to offer better wages to their workers, they could do so without major repercussions on their cost structure, but it seems that there are political interests in keeping prices high and wages very low. It seems that these companies play a role in keeping most of the population dissatisfied, who today can not access these restaurants even when, about 5 years ago, it was possible for any worker to take his family on the weekend to eat in these places.
I wanted to write all this to show those who read us from other countries that yes: it is true, the Venezuelan workers live a delicate situation, product of the innumerable problems that the country is experiencing. But, on the other hand, it is false that public workers have been abandoned by the current government to such an extent that a general strike is justified, as proposed by Juan Guaidó and supported by some trade unionists. Yes, the workers have serious problems, but we have been supported by the government and we hope that this support does not end. We hope that the problems will find their final solution as the Maduro government manages to make our country more productive, that national and foreign industries are created and established ready to convert our innumerable resources into finished products, and that our oil industry recovers .
From my point of view, only with a socialist system of government can a fair distribution of the immense riches of the country be executed, emphasizing the poor and excluded to pay that immense social debt that society has to them.
It would be much easier if the country was not receiving sanctions, blockades and invasion attempts from the nations that want to seize our resources. But, in reality, we could not expect anything else from an Empire that behaves like a criminal, waiting to steal the money from anyone passing by.
Hopefully our trade unionists and public workers do not lend themselves to the show of Guaidó, whom we believe has not the slightest interest in supporting grassroots workers, but rather the employer bosses of always.
Translated by JRE/EF%