The government may have decided against extraordinary sessions of Congress next month in order to progress with labour reform, but such issues are not so easily banished from the political agenda. The Mauricio Macri presidency itself is not so passive on other fronts, with its emergency decree to terminate teacher pay negotiations at national level thus jeopardising the start of classes – collective bargaining with teachers as with everybody else is in any case in trouble, given the government’s determination to impose a 15-percent wage cap. Meanwhile, union corruption (one aspect of the labour world which the government shows no interest in downplaying) continues to make big news splashes with millions of dollars at a time surfacing on either side of the River Plate. Yet this could be throwing stones from a glass house – last week Labour Minister Jorge Triaca was exposed by an ex-housekeeper as having personally contributed toward a third of the workforce being informally (a euphemism for illegally) employed.
Let us start with that issue. At one level Triaca’s alleged negligence with a servant’s social security contributions might look almost like a parking offence when compared to the obscene fortunes embezzled and/or extorted by corrupt union bosses. But at another level it is even worse if true because of the flagrant self-contradiction – formalising employment is a central pillar of the labour reform drafted by his ministry. Currently that move is being delayed by reluctant Peronist senators and fears of social upheaval, yet here we have Triaca himself breaking his own rules. Nor is this the only suspicion against the minister, with alleged nepotism having recently reared its ugly head in the form of the rapid rise of his sister Mariana to the Banco Nación’s board of directors (she is now its director). At the very least Triaca seems to come across as a pot calling the kettle black.
Condemning union corruption is pretty self-evident although the obvious always needs to be stated. So much has been printed in the minutest detail that further comment becomes almost superfluous but at least in the case of Marcelo Balcedo (one of the four recent arrests) so many millions in money and mansions in his family’s name are being unearthed that it becomes worth asking whether it could all come from the funds of his tiny school janitors union or whether it might stem from other sources, such as his alleged links with Rosario drug-trafficking. This, in turn, raises the more general point that behind the surname of the single labour leader identifying these corruption scandals we should look for multiple levels of complicity – in the business, police, judicial and political spheres. It would be simplistic to single out organised labour as the rotten apple in the national heap.
It remains to be seen whether labour reform legislation has been merely postponed or abandoned altogether. On the one hand, the insistent exposure of union corruption might be seen as a drive to browbeat trade unionism into even more compliance than it has already shown, also exploiting labour fragmentation to the full. But on the other hand, the decree limiting collective bargaining for teachers is already a sign of working in stealth rather than Congress and Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña has spoken of highlighting the sectorial level with productivity pacts. Yet there is also a third way – simply to do nothing and allow the 21st century to do all the work. Before too long the robots of the “fourth industrial revolution” will make the brittle structures of Argentina’s traditional labour system impossible to sustain – a challenge which needs to be faced now.