"For 20 years nobody has spared a thought for the police." That was the reproach delivered to Buenos Aires provincial police chief Daniel García, who stood in the doorway of La Matanza’s Strategic Coordination Centre, the hub of one of the tensest protests that echoed almost throughout the province this week.
Numerous departmental chiefs were confronted with the din of sirens and drums and even fireworks. The conflict blew up spontaneously on Monday, but the Buenos Aires provincial police was a powder-keg long before the dispute over low pay went public.
The pandemic did no more than deepen a long-standing internal crisis which is not only economic. The force has been pushing for years for a renovation of its basic equipment, money for petrol and more vehicles to patrol. To this must be added the health crisis, with not only the 7,000 directly infected with coronavirus out of action but also the many more who came into close contact with them.
Among other issues, police officers are asking for a 56 percent hike for the net wage of those on the beat and 64 percent for administrative staff, with the aim of a basic salary of 60,000 pesos upon entry into the force. In common with other lines of work, the Buenos Aires provincial police have lost over 50 percent of their purchasing-power in the last few years, widening the gap with their Buenos Aires City colleagues and some other forces.
Even if the provincial government under Axel Kicillof has granted an advance increase of 4,000 pesos gross (approximately 3,000 pesos net), the starting salary falls short of 40,000 pesos, leaving them 56 percent behind their City counterparts (the country’s best-paid force), without taking into account that the daily shift in Buenos Aires Province is eight hours and six hours in the City.
"We’re 36 percent behind and we were already running behind the City Police in the times of (2007-2015 governor Daniel) Scioli," Nicolas Masi, the secretary-general of Sipoba (Sindicato Policial Buenos Aires) police union told Perfil.
Apart from low basic pay, the overtime for a provincial officer is a pitiful 40 pesos, a sum which the petition presented to the Buenos Aires Province Security Ministry under Sergio Berni seeks to boost to 189 pesos.
Despite the promise of increases, there were already active protests including plenty of noise and the burning of tyres early in the week in 27 of the province’s 135 districts (including the provincial capital and most of Greater Buenos Aires): La Plata, Berisso, Ituzaingó, Almirante Brown, Morón, Merlo, Quilmes, San Miguel, Azul, Malvinas Argentinas, Pilar, José C. Paz, Avellaneda, Lomas de Zamora, Tres de Febrero, Junín, Bahía Blanca, La Matanza, Necochea, San Nicolás, Pinamar, Villa Gesell, Olavarría, Pehuajó, Tres Arroyos, Pergamino and Mar del Plata.
The unrest will not be easily calmed.