Uruguayan teachers went on strike nationwide Thursday, flouting a government crackdown on education sector industrial action.
Called by the Uruguay Education Union (FUM), the strike is set to last 24 hours, though more actions are likely over the coming weeks. Earlier this week, the secondary school teachers' union Fenapes announced it would continue its own industrial action until at least Monday.
The moves by FUM and Fenapes appear to disregard restrictions on strikes that came into effect Wednesday. The restrictions were imposed as part of the government's decision to declare education an essential public service. The reclassification effectively bars teachers from striking for at least 30 days.
Education and Culture Minister Maria Julia Munoz has defended the move as defending the right to education.
"The government and the Education and Culture Ministry have an obligation to ensure that all children and teenagers in the country attend class, and for that reason we are declaring all services related to teaching essential," Munoz has stated, according to EFE.
However, unions have condemned the decision, slamming it as a heavy handed attempt to quell industrial action.
"Stoppages and strikes in the education sector in no way affect life, safety or the health of our students," a third teachers- union, ADES said in a statement.
Union leaders responded by saying they will introduce a complaint before the judicial authorities of the country and before the International Labor Organization, considering the measure as a severe punishment of education unions.
Education workers have been protesting for months, demanding an increase in entry level salaries from the current rate of around US$727 a month to a proposed wage of US$1040.
The strikes affect around 350,000 children enlisted in primary public schools, and almost 30,000 teenagers in secondary public schools – a total population of 3.3 million.
The strikes coincides with the parliamentary debates over the budget for the next five years, involving adjustments in the wages of state officials. President Tabare Vazquez, from the progressive Broad Front, formally took power on March 1, at a moment of economic slow-down, with unemployment rising to 7.4 percent in June, according to official estimates.