Chief of Staff Marcos Peña has announced that Congress will not be meeting in February after all. (Photo via Télam / Gustavo Amarelle)

The government has opened the door to debate and tweaks to its proposed labor reform, further confirming that it won’t be tackled by Congress in extraordinary sessions in February.

Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña confirmed today that the Mauricio Macri administration was open to receiving suggestions to the labor reform, setting as the only condition that any changes “have to benefit workers and create more registered employment.”

Addressing reporters at a press conference after the first Cabinet meeting of the year, Peña said that the reason to push back the debate that had been slated to commence in February was due to it not being worth the trouble “for only a few sessions.”

“It seemed better to start work in March after the presidential address (in Congress, on March 1st), when committees begin to function normally,” added the chief of staff. Peña denied that there had been disagreements on the labor reform with members of the Peronist opposition, saying only that it seemed like there had been a consensus to debate the matter thoroughly in committee.

Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto, (PJ-Río Negro), the leader of the Peronist caucus that has expressed its willingness to negotiate and work with the Executive, sent a message to the Casa Rosada recently when he complained that the government was focusing on the reform while its members holidayed in the exclusive Punta del Este. Various labour leaders and members of the Frente Renovador, which often helps Cambiemos get a majority in the Lower House, have also signed their rejection of the reform in its current state. The Government sustains to have managed the support from the CGT umbrella union, but it should be noted that there has been infighting among its leaders about the terms of the reform.

No single party or a coalition has a majority in either house of Congress, forcing the Executive to negotiate the terms of its initiatives to ensure that they are approved.

The Cabinet met for the first time in 2018 today. (Photo via Argentine Presidency Press Office)
The Cabinet met for the first time in 2018 today. (Photo via Argentine Presidency Press Office)

 

Among the criticisms of the reform are articles that reduce the window for workers to sue their employers as well as the exclusion of overtime hours and other additional payments from the formula used to calculate severance packages in the case of layoffs. The government has trumpeted the reform as a way to guarantee the inclusion of a large swathes of workers into the formal labor system – roughly one third of the workforce is employed en negro, that’s to say, under the table – as well as the extension of paternity leaves and greater flexibility in working hours for new parents.

The reform efforts come at a sensitive time in the relationship between the government and unions in general, with several union leaders recently being imprisoned or investigated on charges charges covering money laundering, embezzling and blackmail, among others. In response to questions asking if he felt there was a coincidence between the corruption investigations of union leaders and the labor reform, the chief of staff said he felt that there was no connection both occurrences, pointing to the independence of the courts in political meddling.

Furthermore, collective wage bargaining negotiations are set to begin soon setting the stage for disputes over the final amount that unions and business chambers can agree to. Asked today if the recent changes in the inflation targets could prove a sticking point, Peña reiterated that the government sees those wage bargaining negotiations as “free” but asked that society as a whole makes an effort to make it possible to meet to the 15 percent target set for this year. Don’t forget that in 2017, inflation clocked in at 24.8 percent – so there’s still a long way to go.