02 June 2009

Chile Teachers March on Capital on 16th Day of Strike

By Nathan Gill
     June 2 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Chilean public school teachers marched in the capital on the 16th day of a nationwide strike to press their demands for what they say are unpaid bonuses.
     More than 5,000 teachers traveled to Santiago for the protest, said Jaime Gajardo, president of the Chilean Teachers’ Council, joining as many as 10,000 more marchers in the capital, according to Television Nacional estimates. The teachers say they will continue the strike that has kept more than a million students out of school until their demands are met.
      “The bonus is a right, it’s written in the law and they haven’t paid it,” Gajardo said in a telephone interview from Santiago. “This struggle has opened the debate about the future of public education.”
     The parents of some students are reopening schools and will take charge of classes until the nation’s 80,000 public school teachers return, Chile’s Channel 13 television station reported today.
     Education Minister Monica Jimenez said yesterday that the government had authorized a partial payment of the 120 billion pesos ($213 million) that teachers are demanding and would pay the remainder when the teachers returned to work, according to a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

Umbrella Union

     “What the minister said is a maneuver to stop the strike,” Gajardo said. “It isn’t the solution that the teachers are asking for.”
     The striking teachers were joined by the Central Workers’ Unit, an umbrella group for Chilean unions known as the CUT. Arturo Martinez, the union’s leader, said his group supported the protests and called on students to join, too.
     Protesters beating drums and waving flags called for Jimenez to step down, chanting “out with the minister” as they marched through the city’s center.
      “The education minister is living in a bubble,” said Fernando Bascur, a physical education teacher who traveled from Talcahuano, a port city in Chile’s Bio-Bio Region, to attend the march. “She’s trying to wash her hands of this, but we won’t take it anymore.”
     Jimenez replaced Yasna Provoste last year after Chilean senators voted to impeach Provoste for failing to prevent accounting irregularities in her ministry.
     Jimenez has a 37 percent approval rating, according to a May 5-23 poll of 1,031 adults surveyed by Santiago-based Adimark Gfk. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

     Jimenez’s popularity fell 1 percentage point from April’s poll.