December 19, 2013
Gov’t aims to fight unregistered work
34.5 percent of Argentine workers work under the table, according to numbers released this week by the INDEC statistics bureau.
The figures were certainly no cause for celebration — and yesterday Labour Minister Carlos Tomada acknowledged the rate of informal labour “ceased to fall” and announced a number of measures to fight the phenomenon.
“We need more fine-tuning to return to a decline” in the number of unregistered workers, Tomada said.
The Kirchnerite official revealed the national government will create a public resgistry that would enable the Labour Ministry to sanction companies that fail to fulfil their duty to register active workers.
He then revealed his office has been working on a map of unregistered labour throughout the country and that Victory Front (FpV) figureheads will send a Telecommuting Law bill to be discussed in Congress “in order to update the current legislation under which lots of fraud has been committed.”
These potential measures, some of which have already been approved by the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, will be part of the following rounds of talks with business and union leaders that the government started to hold after the August 11 primaries.
Improvements reaching a ‘saturation point’
Back in 2003, when the country began getting out of a huge economic crisis, the unemployment rate reached 18 percent, while workers not registered with the Social Security system made up 49.1 percent of the population.
Ten years later, unemployment fell to 7.2 percent and unregistered work fell by 14.6 percentage points — which meant, among other things, that much of the work created during the last decade was, in fact, dignified jobs.
Some of the main decreases were achieved in health services (35.6 percentage points less than the beginning of the Kirchnerite era), construction (19 points) and manufacturing (17.2 points).
Nevertheless, a core of informal activities survived, and even adapted, to these years of economic growth and seem more difficult to combat.
“Over the last months we seem to be witnessing some stagnation in reducing unregistered labour,” Héctor Palomino, head of the Labour Relations Studies Department at the Labour Ministry, told the Herald.
Statistics from the previous quarter showed that 32 percent of the country’s workforce was not registered. Now it has gone up by two-and-a-half points.
“Informal work still represents around one third of the total workforce,” the specialist explained.
Top irregular employers
Palomino indicated pockets of informality remain high in the textile sector — whose relationship with slave-like labour has been repeatedly denounced by local NGOs — and household employees, where the Labour Ministry finds it difficult to carry out audits as is common in private companies.
Oscar Martínez, a member of the Labour Studies Workshop (TEL in Spanish), begs to differ.
“Unregistered work is still a widespread reality, not only among workers who provide domestic services and in the construction sector, but also in journalism and the retail sector,” Martínez told the Herald.
Moreover, the sociologist insisted that the state is itself a large irregular employer.
“There are entire state offices composed of workers who are forced to register as self-employed, even though they meet all the characteristics of salaried workers,” Martínez added.
Half of young workers
Figures of informal work are even higher among youth — who, in time, are the most affected by unemployment.
Even though huge progress has been achieved between 2003 and 2008, the percentage of unregistered young workers remained steady over the last few years, according to INDEC statistics culled from the Permanent Household Survey (EPH).
In the beginning of the late former president Néstor Kirchner’s administration in 2003, 71.6 percent of 15- to 24 year-old workers did not pay pension contributions, which is the technical way the Labour Ministry has to find out that a worker is not registered.
Five years later, the figure dropped down to 55.9 percent — but has stayed around those levels ever since.
The last available numbers, from 2011, revealed 54.5 percent of workers under 24 years of age are unregistered, and therefore not entitled to compensation for work injuries or sick leave, to name a few of the benefits of registered labour.
In other words, more than half of the country’s young labourers work under the table.