Tension is growing in Bolivia as miners, teachers, health service workers and public university staff -all affiliated to the Central Workers Union (Central Obrera Boliviana, COB, in Spanish)- are on strike demanding an increase in their retirement pension scheme.
A number of strategic streets remain blockaded in La Paz and neighbouring El Alto, with limited public transport circulating their usual routes. Road blockades also impede the normal transit to other regions.
As protests escalate, on May 14 teachers and miners detonated dynamite in the streets of La Paz during demonstrations.
COB representatives demand an increase in their retirement pensions from the current 70 percent to 100 percent of the their salary. They are asking that the increase of 30 to 50 percent in their compensation come from public funds saved in the Solidarity Fund (Fondo Solidario in Spanish). Government officials rejected this demand as they consider that it compromises the sustainability of the “Fondo Solidario”.
Negotiations are intermittent as the Government requests COB representatives to suspend demonstrations and blockades. Moreover, low-rank Police Unionists and their wives have threatened to join the general strike [es] demanding better pension schemes, arguing the same conditions that Army officers enjoy: retirement with 100 percent of their contributions.
Clashes between police and demonstrators were reported via Twitter under the hashtag #ConflictosBo. In spite of the conflictive climate, and although blockades and demonstrations continue, dialogue between Unionist and Government representatives is expected to resume.
Blogger and Analyst Raúl Prada comments on his blog Horizontes Nómadas [es] (Nomad Horizons):
La COB se encuentra movilizada por reivindicaciones salariales, en defensa de una jubilación digna, que no es otra cosa que salario diferido, en contra los métodos monetaristas de transferir la solidaridad a los trabajadores, desentendiéndose el Estado de apoyar con un fondo adecuado en la perspectiva de una jubilación digna para todos.
The COB is mobilized for wage demands in defence of a dignified retirement, which is nothing but deferred salary, they are against monetarist methods of transferring Solidarity Fund responsibility to workers, while the state avoids providing support with an appropriate fund to provide a dignified retirement for everyone.
On the other hand, Minister of Economy Luis Arce stated [es] that the government does contribute to the Solidarity Fund and “guarantees the payment of the 70 percent in regards to wages.” He added that the government's proposal ensures the sustainability of the Solidarity Fund for about 30 years and supports payments to current and future pensioners”.
According to Government radio station Patria Nueva [es], “the [same] authority explained that COB representatives are pursuing a ‘political decision’ rather than a technical one in order to increase pensions, which is not possible because it would jeopardize the income of all pensioners”.
In his blog [es] Boris Bernal shares the analysis made by the Centre for the Study of Labour and Agrarian Development (“Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario” in Spanish, or CEDLA [es]):
El actual sistema integral de pensiones no garantiza el pago de rentas de jubilación dignas que
alcance a los trabajadores para cubrir sus necesidades básicas cuando pasen a ser trabajadores pasivos y las fuerzas físicas y el mercado de trabajo no les permita continuar trabajando
The current Pension System does not ensure a decent retirement income for workers to satisfy their basic needs when they become passive workers, and when physical strength as well as the labour market does not allow them to continue working.
Further down, the same analysis predicts harder conditions for young workers in the future:
El panorama para los jóvenes trabajadores y para todos aquellos que vienen aportando al actual sistema así como al que estuvo vigente hasta el 2010 (sistema administrado por las AFP) es más crítico, porque a diferencia de los aportantes antiguos [...] dispondrán de una sola fuente, sus aportes, que hará aun más insuficiente el monto requerido para jubilarse.
The scenario for young workers and for those who are contributing to the current system, and the one that was in force until 2010 (administered by the AFP system) is more critical, because unlike older contributors [...] they will have a single source, their own contributions, that will make it even harder to reach the amount required to retire.