Mass Layoffs in Argentina: Milei’s Chainsaw Strikes State Workers

Marco Teruggi, Orinoco Tribune, April 2, 2024 —

Argentinian President Javier Milei’s chainsaw has finally had a full impact on state workers. This occurred on the eve of the long weekend and Easter holiday with the dismissal of about 11,000 employees of various government institutions located in the capital, Buenos Aires, as well as in offices in other provinces.

The notifications of the non-renewal of contracts or dismissals occurred without notice, by mail, WhatsApp messages, during day or night. Thousands of people have suddenly become unemployed in the midst of the economic recession the country is going through—both workers who had joined the state during the previous government, as well as others with more than 20 years of seniority.

The information provided by the government in this regard has been, as is usually the case, imprecise. Milei first stated that 50,000 public employees have already been dismissed, without indicating where or when, and anticipated that 70,000 more contracts would “fall”. In other words, the target would be 120,000 layoffs, more than one third of the total number government workers.

The presidency’s spokesperrson, Manuel Adorni, then pointed out that “70,000 is the entire total of those susceptible to dismissal. So far, what is going to happen on March 31 is the dismissal of about 15,000 contracts.”

The secretary general of the Association of State Workers (ATE) of the Buenos Aires, Daniel Catalano, pointed out to Público that there will be about 11,000 layoffs. To this figure must be added the 7,000 layoffs accounted for by ATE since Milei assumed the presidency; thus, the total number of dismissals of government workers has reached approximately 18,000 workers in three and a half months.

The state scrapping
“The areas that are disappearing are the social security system, science and technology, culture, social development in the areas of containment of vulnerable sectors. or the agricultural system, in particular for small producers and native peoples,” explained Catalano. One of the most affected ministries has been that of Human Capital, in charge of sensitive areas such as social assistance, where about 3,600 workers have been laid off.

“The objective of the government, with the massive layoffs, is to remove the role of the state from its functions and to privatize all those tasks that can be privatized, leaving as the minimum expression a decorative figure of the state that sustains the transfer of the money collected by the government to private hands,” said Castalano, who is also deputy secretary of the Argentinian Workers’ Central.

One of the arguments put forward by the government is that those who have lost their jobs are simply “ñoquis”, a term used in Argentina to refer to those who receive a salary from the state but do not actually work.

Catalano said that the layoffs affect “thousands of workers with a seniority of up to 25 years in strategic functions and key functions. The government has not shown a single dismissal that is related to someone who did not work, so the story they are building falls apart.”

Some 11,000 in crisis
Carolina—who preferred not to give her last name—was among the 11,000 laid off this week. She had been an employee of the National Agency for Disability for 12 years, and between February and March, 320 of the 1,200 people who worked there were dismissed, that is, a quarter of an agency in which, she pointed out, there was already “a shortage of workers.”

The area where Carolina worked is dedicated to “processing non-contributory pensions,” that is, to granting pensions to people with disabilities. Last year, they issued about 300 new pensions a day, and since Milei arrived, about 10: “this management did not change the evaluation criteria, but they started to give 10 new pensions a day, so we suspect that their interest is to eliminate the entire pension system and thus eliminate the workers,” she said.

The sudden dismissal has placed her in an economic crisis: “being without a job means being without social security. I have a son with a disability who has to undergo treatment, and he has a baby who also needs social security”.

The layoffs, as Carolina said to the media outlet, have also affected workers with disabilities or pregnant women, who have become unemployed from one day to the next.

More layoffs to come
The government, upon coming into power, put in place 90-day public contracts that, upon reaching term, may or may not be renewed. The massive round of layoffs at the end of March corresponds with the end of that quarter, and many of those who have remained in their jobs this week will have to wait three more months to find out whether they will continue or join the unemployment list.

In addition to the layoffs in government institutions, Milei’s plans for a halt in public works, privatization of state-owned companies, and a significant adjustment of retiree benefits have been condemned by the opposition and international organizations such as Amnesty International.

Milei’s justification for this impoverishment of the state, which he qualifies as a “criminal organization,” is that, in addition to eliminating the alleged ñoquis, state spending must be reduced in order to reach zero deficit, his central aim in resolving the economic crisis.

ATE has already announced that it will carry out “measures of force until the jobs are recovered,” as Catalano has warned. Next Wednesday, ATE will attempt to occupy institutions where workers have been dismissed and will erect barricades in the street. On Friday, ATE members plan to lead a strike.

The Argentinian executive has shown proven to be inflexible in its adjustment plan and has celebrated it in social networks as part of the changes promised by Milei in his fight against “the caste.”

His promise is that there will be light at the end of the tunnel, something that, for the moment, is not perceived in the midst of the worsening of the living conditions of the poorest sectors, salaried workers, middle classes, or small and medium enterprises affected by the combination of inflation and recession.

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