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Government fires 38,000 public school teachers

April 1, 1986

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ The government said it fired at least 38,000 striking public school teachers Tuesday who refused to accept a minimum monthly wage equivalent to $25, less than half what they asked.

Bolivia has frozen the salaries of public employees since August in an austerity campaign to counter astronomical inflation that hit 15,000 percent last year. There has been no inflation for eight weeks, but the government says low export prices have left the government seriously short of funds.

Teachers have been on strike since February, demanding an increase in minimum monthly pay from the peso equivalent of $15 to $65. A union leader said the government offer would cover less than 30 percent of a family’s needs.

Since the government ended food subsidies as part of the austerity program, a quart of milk costs 35 cents, a pound of chicken or beef $2.

President Victor Paz Estenssoro signed a decree last week authorizing the dismissal of teachers who did not report to work Monday.

″The president’s orders are to be enforced and since 38,000 teachers did not report to work they have been fired,″ Roy Oropeza Ortuno, undersecretary of education, said in a telephone interview. Bolivia has 75,000 public school teachers.

Oropeza Ortuno said the pay of the dismissed teachers would be distributed among those who stayed on the job.

He said meeting the pay increase demands could begin a new round of destructive inflation.

″The prices of tin and petroleum have collapsed and sources of income for the country have been seriously affected,″ he said. ″We have no alternative but austerity.″

This impoverished country of 6.4 million people has suffered a drop in export earnings from $1 billion in 1981 to less than $500 million in 1985, according to the Central Bank. Principal factors are lower prices for tin and natural gas, the main exports.

Javier Suarez, leader of the La Paz teachers’ union, made the claim that $25 a month would cover less than a third of a family’s minimum expenses.

Noel Orozco, executive secretary of the union, said: ″If the government can find 75,000 yogas or fakirs to work as teachers, let them do it. We will not work until we are paid a dignified wage that satisfies our basic minimum needs.″

A major purpose of the austerity program is to meet conditions set by the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance.

Paz Estenssoro’s government devalued the peso by 95 percent, increased gasoline prices tenfold, authorized the dismissal of workers and ended food subsidies.

The IMF demands legislative approval of a tax reform package and a balanced budget. The Planning Ministry says wage increases would derail the anti- inflation plan and delay an IMF agreement.

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