Peru: controversial labour law scrapped


In the face of a strong and united opposition movement, the Peruvian government has revoked a controversial new youth labour law.

The legislation, which would have cut salaries, holidays and severance payments for workers under 25 amongst other measures, was repealed in Congress last Monday by a massive majority of 91 in favour, 18 against and five abstentions.

But it took five big demonstrations organised by a coalition of trade unions, students and members of civil society – the first on 19 December 2014 and the last while Congress was voting in January –to secure the repeal.

Julio Cesar Bazan, president of Central Unitaria de Trabajadores del Perú (CUT), described the abrogation of the youth labour code as “a step towards creating a country with fair labour rights”.

The so-called “Pulpín Law” was passed on 11 December 2014 while the spotlight was turned on the COP20 climate conference in Lima.

The government said the labour law changes would help “reactivate the economy” and fight informalisation, as 85 per cent of all workers aged between 18-24 are found in the informal economy, according to International Labour Organization (ILO).

But critics – who dubbed the law “Pulpín” after a popular children’s fruit juice, thus mocking the perception that young workers are child-like and easily exploitable – likened the measures to “semi-slavery” as they would encourage companies to hire young workers for less money.

These workers would have not only received fewer holidays but they would also have been subject to reduced bonuses and no severance pay on termination of a contract.

Some 260,000 young Peruvian workers would have been affected by the law, according to statistics.

Sandra de la Cruz Elescan, a 24-year-old student and member of the Foro Juvenil Izquierda (Left Youth Forum), would have been one of them.

“Economic growth is very important in Peru but the benefits aren’t equally shared. I think the politicians were very surprised by the movement, especially between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but it was logical: when you impact people’s purchasing power, they will react immediately.”

A number of arrests took place during the marches and several protesters were wounded, but the movement maintained its momentum.

More than 5,000 people took to the streets for the final protest on 15 January 2015, which is roughly the same number of people that attended the first march in December 2014.

For Yohn Lescano, a member of the left-wing parliamentary group Accion Popular - Frente Amplio (Popular Action – Broad Front), quashing the youth labour law was “the only solution to keep the streets of Lima safe. If not, the growing discontent would have gotten worse and more violent”.


Another new law?

A new commission will be created in the coming weeks tasked with drafting another labour law for young workers.

Ciro Silva, coordinator of Colectivo Patriotico de Apoyo a la Juventud (Patriotic Collective to Support Youth), one of the main organisers of the demonstrations, told Equal Times that changes are necessary – just not in the way originally proposed: “The government needs to rebuild the whole Peruvian labour market. There are many issues and elements which don’t respect international treaties and ILO agreements.”

The ILO had previously expressed uncertainty about the “Pulpín Law”.

“Informality is a very complex subject. We know it’s very high in Peru…but we need to talk about incentives, fiscality, productivity, formation,” the ILO’s Andean area director Carmen Moreno told the Peruvian news website La Republica.

Cesar Sobreron Estela, youth secretary for the Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru (CGTP), says had the reforms been implemented, they would have been unconstitutional.

He told Equal Times: “Peru made this law for and with the companies. It didn’t respect any international norms. It would have meant the institutionalisation of job insecurity. We need a more global labour law with more equality and incentives for companies to hire young people. But young workers shouldn’t have to pay the price.”

Paola Egusquiza, youth secretary for the Central Autónoma de Trabajadores del Perú (CATP) agrees:

"What we need is one, and only one, labour law. We have 49 different arrangements depending on the sector, the worker’s age. We must stop this discrimination.”