After plenty of back and forth over the question, President Mauricio Macri has finally decided not to call extraordinary sessions of Congress for next month in order to push through labour reform, even resigning himself to passage likely coming in April in view of the reluctance of Peronist senators.
Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña announced the decision, adding that this delay did not mean inaction on the labour front – the government would be pursuing productivity agreements at sectorial level on the model of the tripartite pact to exploit Vaca Muerta shale signed this time last year with the oil workers union and the Neuquén provincial government.
This new approach raised doubts in the local press whether there would be any labour reform bill at all.
“We want to work from March 1 within a legislative calendar that allows bills to pass through all steps of debate,” Peña said, stepping away from statements he made last year that Congress would begin sitting from February 14.
Labour unions and the opposition are against the proposed labour reforms, while the government is cautious about the possibility of unrest after the violence that engulfed Congress in December when lawmakers passed the pension reform bill.
“The [labour reform] bill sent to Congress was prepared after an agreement with the CGT [the country’s main union confederation]. We have worked with the CGT’s procedures. If the CGT wants to propose new modifications to the bill sent (to Congress), then we are open to discussing these,” Peña said. “We think the bill (in its current form) is beneficial for workers.”
The postponement had few critics. The CGT umbrella union grouping celebrated the decision since it was formally committed to defending a reform negotiated with its leaders but was reluctant to do so in the light of last month’s stormy passage of pension legislation, which had only deepened the divisions within organised labour. Most members of the government were relieved not to repeat that trauma, while lawmakers were generally happy to reclaim an extra month of holidays.
The head of the Peronist block in Congress, Miguel Angel Pichetto, took aim at the government on Tuesday, saying the opposition will not operate on the government’s watch. He also questioned cabinet ministers for “vacationing in Punta del Este” (the Uruguayan resort town) instead of publicly defending the reform package.
The government had previously proposed splitting up the reform to give speedy passage to the clauses enjoying the most consensus, such as those seeking to formalise employment in the underground economy. But it seems to have concluded that the least popular items doing the most to lower labour costs would then never see the light of day.