Will the Labor Ministry continue with the laissez-faire policy for big businesses?
The massive layoffs policy carried out by Argentine President Mauricio Macri appears so far to be the most ruthless part of a regressive wealth distribution policy that is only favoring the top 1 percent of the country.
While Macri’s government justifies the layoffs as a necessity to clean up the public sector from allegedly unproductive employees – who are often stigmatized by government officials as “pro-Kirchner militants” – the fact is such a policy may end up triggering a shock wave that will reach the private sector as well.
Several polls conducted by private firms reveal that more than 100,000 jobs have been destroyed in Argentina in 2016, with 42 percent of them in January and the rest in February. Around 55,000 people who used to work in the private sector lost their jobs, most of them in construction, which means that all the related industries, like cement or steel production, will also experience a drop in their production levels.
Unions Ready to Fight Back
Besides the first massive strike against Macri’s policies led by State Workers Association in February, workers’ unions are getting ready to fight back in all possible arenas.
The CTA umbrella trade union will propose to Congress a bill to prevent unjustified layoffs for a one-year term.
“According to our estimates, around one-third of the dismissals are in the public sector and the rest in the private sector. Many of them are related to the paralyzation of public works and to the drop of the industrial activity due to the lifting of the import barriers,” Hugo Yasky, secretary general of the CTA told the press.
The CGT trade union is also preparing demonstrations against the massive jobs losses. Some of its leaders have anticipated they will carry on a massive protest in 30 days, which is seen by many as a way to put pressure on the government.
Who’s to Blame?
At this point all eyes are on two officials: Labor Minister Jorge Triaca and Modernization Minister Andres Ibarra.
Ibarra has been referred to sarcastically as Argentina’s “Layoff Minister” by workers unions and social movements as he is one of the officials responsible for the “restructuring” of the public sector staff.
“The figures on those polls is not confirmed yet,” Ibarra said when consulted about the surveys that show the growth in the unemployment rate. He also added that only 7,000 people had been fired from the public sector.
In late February, Ibarra had also told the press that 25,000 “contracts” – as he refers to public employees – were under revision, which meant they could be canceled. The following day, the first national strike of the Macri era was led by the State Workers Association, demanding an end to the layoffs.
Labor Minister Jorge Triaca is also in the spotlight.
While under the previous progressive governments led by the previous administrations of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the Labor Ministry was conceived as the government’s tool to intervene in labor conflicts to favor the workers as they are the weakest faction in the dispute. Triaca however, has not taken any part in preventing layoffs in the private sector.
Quite the opposite, in a television interview, he argued that as a consequence of having powerful unions, Argentine workers have one of the highest income levels in Latin America, and that it makes the country less attractive for foreign investments.
Some private companies have already carried on with dismissals without any kind of intervention by the ministry. Others foreign companies like Citibank have expressed a willingness to shut down some operations, which would leave 2,000 bank workers in the street according to the Bank Workers Association.
It is yet to be seen whether the ministry will intervene in any of those conflicts or if it will continue with the laissez-faire policy in favor of big businesses.