Caracas, Jan 16 (EFE).- Thousands of current and retired public employees held new marches in different Venezuelan cities on Monday to demand increases in base salary and pension payouts, as well as benefits such as medical coverage.
The protests were the latest in a series of rallies that began seven days ago, when thousands of teachers mobilized in nearly every one Venezuela’s 23 state capitals to call for higher pay.
“The educators are protesting to (demand) the start of discussions on a collective bargaining agreement … because it’s not possible that they gave out a bonus of 580 bolivars ($29.80) in a bid to halt this demonstration,” the president of the Caracas Teachers’ Union, Edgar Machado, told Efe. “We don’t want bonuses. We want a salary … that’s sufficient to cover our dietary needs.”
Monday’s protests were held in different cities in at least 17 of Venezuela’s 23 states, union organizations said on social media.
In Caracas, the public employees had planned to hold a protest outside the Education Ministry to communicate their demands to the authorities, but they opted to gather elsewhere after supporters of leftist President Nicolas Maduro organized a demonstration at the same site.
The president of the Caracas Nurses’ Association, Ana Rosario Contreras, told Efe that members’ salaries and pensions (now equivalent to around $7) should be comparable to the cost of the basic food basket, which the Venezuelan Finance Observatory says stood at around $371 in December in the inflation-racked country.
“We’re going to continue with a unified agenda of struggle, organizing, uniting and mobilizing public-sector workers, because we’re convinced that if we build a social fabric of struggle impervious to divisions and fractures we’ll achieve our objective,” she said.
That goal is “quality of life,” according to Contreras, who noted that nurses now “can’t even afford a ticket to (get to) work” on public transportation.
On Saturday, Venezuelan teachers loyal to Chavismo (the leftist movement spawned by Maduro’s late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez) marched in Caracas to express their support for the government, slam the harsh economic sanctions placed on the country by the United States and calling for alternative ways to recover workers’ purchasing power.
An immense gap currently exists between pay in the private and public sectors in Venezuela.
During a protest last week, the executive secretary of the Fetrasalud health-care workers union, Pablo Zambrano, told Efe that pay in the private sector ranges from between $125 and $150 per month.
By contrast, he said public sector pay is based on the minimum wage, which stands at just over $6. EFE