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South America Argentina passes pension ‘reform’ despite mass protests

ARGENTINA’S congress approved a Bill breaking the link between pensions and wages yesterday in defiance of days of popular unrest and a 24-hour general strike.

MPs voted 128 to 116 in favour of the changes after 12 hours of debate.

President Mauricio Macri says his reforms, which change the rules by which pensions are calculated, are necessary to cut the deficit and “attract investment” — presumably from foreign companies that want to avoid costly pension obligations when they take over local firms or former public services.

Nathalia Gonzalez of the Left Front attacked the “rush” to vote on the law, accusing Mr Macri of short-changing pensioners in order to pay off foreign creditors.

The main opposition Victory Front, the party of former president Cristina Fernandez, said it believed the government was acting on instructions from the International Monetary Fund.

A guarantee that pensions will rise by 5 per cent more than inflation next year and a promised “bonus” for the poorest retired people did not convince protesters, whose rallies outside the congress were so huge that MPs had to adjourn their debate on Thursday.

When MPs met again on Monday, they found trade unions and left parties had rallied similar numbers on the streets of Buenos Aires, with angry citizens raising a din by beating pots and pans.

Teacher Laura Rivas, who was one of the protesters, said: “We are going to have to work more years before we can retire and then the pension payments we get will be minimal, so it hurts us as workers.”

Hundreds fought pitched battles with police, who let rip with tear gas and water cannon into the crowds. Around 150 people were reported injured in the clashes and 60 were arrested.

The CGT trade union federation announced a 24-hour strike on Monday.

Leader Juan Carlos Schmid said the pension cuts that would follow the reform “significantly” outweighed the value of the proposed bonus, which he derided as a “joke.”

Mr Schmid called the Bill illegitimate and said that unions planned a series of legal challenges to it. Hundreds of flights were grounded as workers walked off the job.

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