THE new labour law that Hugo Chavez, president of
Bolivarian Republic of , signed on International Labour Day (May 1, 2012) did not get the desired attention. This is nothing surprising as corporate media always tries to block all news about the empowerment of the working class. The law defines work as a social process, guarantees minimum wages, right to organise, strike and ensures equality in work place. Signing this law, Chavez stated: “The triumph of the people, of the workers, has never come about without a long process of resistance, of struggle, suffering even. This law, which I will have the honour of signing...is the product of a long process of struggle.” Venezuela
OF THE LAW
Signalling the importance of this law, Fidel Castro wrote: “It satisfies me greatly to observe...the profound impact on the sister people of
of the Ley Orgánica del Trabajo (comprehensive labour law) promulgated by the Bolivarian leader and president of the republic, Hugo Chávez Frías. I have never seen anything like it within the political scenario of our hemisphere. I paid attention to the enormous crowds who gathered in the plazas and avenues of Venezuela and, in particular, the spontaneous words of citizens interviewed. I have rarely seen, perhaps never, the degree of emotion and hope which they put into their statements. One could clearly see that the overwhelming majority of the population is constituted of humble workers. A veritable battle of ideas is being forcefully waged.” Caracas
The process of reforming the labour laws in
began in 2003. The consistent pressure exercised by the Venezuelan working class hastened this process and it gained momentum since last year. The entire concept of 'reforming labour law' and the process carried out in Venezuela is in contrast to what we witness in our country. (A brief summary of various articles, given at the end, distinctly bring out this contrast.) Numerous missions that were functioning in the country were used to collect input from a large cross-section of society. During the five-month consultation process with communal councils, trade unions, and political parties, the government received 19,000 proposals, 90 percent of them from workers. Venezuela
According to many experts, this is the most important document issued by Chávez's government since the Bolivarian constitution of 1999. Just as the constitution was opposed by the oligarchy, the opposition is back again in arms against this labour law, which they rightly see as targeting their privileges. They were unable to digest the fact that Chavez announced a 32.5 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage, to be carried out in two phases. [The first phase took effect on May 1 with an increase from 1,548 bolivares ($360) to 1,780 bolivares ($413.90). On September, it will increase another 15 percent to 2,047 bolivares ($476).] True to their class interests, they are protesting against the law, which the majority of the people are supporting. According to International Consulting Services, an international polling agency, over 80 percent of Venezuelans hold a positive view of the law, compared to 13 percent who do not.
The law, many believe, will become one of the important agenda on which the presidential elections scheduled for this year would be fought. Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro called the labour law “an instrument for constructing the highest stage of socialism.” The government had already initiated an extensive discussion on this law among the people. A large number of copies are printed and distributed among the workers and other sections of the population, to be studied by them.
The law comprises nine chapters and 554 articles. Some trade union activists and defenders of labour rights consider this law as one of the most advanced and innovative labour laws in the world. The timing of the law, amidst the severe global economic crisis and the attacks on working class rights in the name of austerity, enhances its significance.
The law identifies its objective as to “protect work as a social deed” and to “protect workers’ rights, recognising workers as creators of socially produced wealth and as protagonists in education and work processes.”
Some of the most important and radical features in the law are as below.
1) House work is an economic activity that creates added value and produces wealth and well being. Housewives have the right to social security, in accordance with the law (Article 17).
2) The social process of work has, as its main objective, to overcome forms of capitalist exploitation, as well as to produce goods and services that guarantee our economic independence, satisfy human needs through the just distribution of wealth, and create material, social, and spiritual conditions that allow for the family to be the fundamental space for the integral development of people...social process of work should contribute to guaranteeing: independence and national sovereignty, economic sovereignty, human development for a dignified existence and economic growth that allows for the elevation of the standard of living of the population, food sovereignty and security, protection of the environment and the rational use of national resources (Article 25).
3) It defines outsourced labour as “fraud committed by employers in order to distort, deny, or create obstacles for the application of the labour law” (Article 47) and prohibits outsourced labour in Article 48, which means that the following is not permitted: contracting work entities for a public work, service, and so on that is permanent and directly related to the productive process of the hirer, hiring workers through intermediaries in order to avoid obligations to those being hired, creating work entities in order to avoid obligations, and so on.
4) Wages can’t be below the established national minimum wage, nor less than what other workers are paid for the same work, in the same establishment. It’s preferred that the work contract is in writing, where there is nothing in writing, the statements made by the worker are assumed to be true until proven otherwise (Articles 55-65).
5) If a worker is unjustly fired, they have ten days to go to the judge of Sentencing, Mediation, and Execution so the judge can order salary payment. The employer has three days to comply, and if he or she doesn’t, the judge can force compliance by confiscating property of the employer. If the employer still fails to comply, they can go to prison for six to fifteen months (Article 85-95).
6) Workplaces should distribute at least 15 percent of liquid benefits (net earnings after tax) obtained at the end of the financial year. For each worker that is also a minimum of one month’s wage and maximum of four months. Workers have the right to examine and verify the work place’s inventories and balances in order to check that they are being paid the correct amount (Articles 131-140).
7) Where there is an illegal or fraudulent closing of a workplace or an employer strike, the work minister can, at the request of the workers, order the occupation of the workplace and restart productive activity. Worker’s can request state technical help to reactivate the productive process (Articles 148-151).
8) Salaries, social provisions, and any other amount owed to the worker will have preference over any other debt owned by the employer, including mortgages and loans. Preventative confiscation of the employer’s property can be carried out in order to guarantee this (Article 151).
9) Working days per week can’t exceed five, and workers have a right to two days of rest. The working day can’t exceed eight hours per day or forty hours per week. A working night can’t exceed seven hours per shift or 35 hours per week. The same hour limits apply to a 'mixed' work week which combines night and day shifts (Article 173).
10) Work carried out in the home, by paid workers such as gardeners, cooks and babysitters, will be regulated by the new law (Articles 207-208).
11) The working day for workers from home is regulated by the law and workers must also enjoy two full days of rest as established in the law. They cannot be paid less than their counterparts who work in their employee’s shop or workplace and who carry out the same tasks. They should never be paid less than the minimum wage (Articles 209-217).
12) Agricultural workers will be entitled to paid holidays as defined in the law. Agricultural workers should work no more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day. They have the right to two days of rest per week. If the agricultural worker has personally cultivated a plot of land within the agricultural production unit, they will be entitled to stay there once the working relationship has ended. If they did not make use of that right, the employer will be obliged to pay the agricultural worker for the value of any produce which remains in the agricultural production unit and has been cultivated by the worker (Articles 229-238).
13) Young adults have the right to participate in the development of the nation. As the result, the state must provide for their education and inclusion into the social process of work as students, apprentices, interns, scholarship holders, and workers (Article 300).
14) Inventions, innovations and improvements are classed as products of the social process of labour, to satisfy the needs of the people through the just distribution of wealth...A worker will always maintain a moral right to their invention, which under no condition can be removed from them (Articles 320-329).
15) Employers are prohibited from soliciting medical reports or exams from female applicants to a job to determine whether they are pregnant or not (Article 332).
16) Maternity leave is granted for 6 weeks before and 20 weeks after giving birth, to be extended in case of illness, during which time the mother will receive full salary and benefits (Articles 333-338).
17) Workers have the right to be affiliated to trade unions without exception and free of discrimination. Trade union activity is also a right guaranteed by the state. Employers cannot fund trade unions, establish them, obstruct union activities or discriminate against workers based on their trade union affiliation. Employers have a legal obligation to put an end to anti-union activities within 72 hours of becoming aware of them. Failure to do so is punishable by law (Articles 353-430).
18) It defines a strike as a “collective suspension of work activity,” workers are allowed at the work place during a strike. Requirements for striking include: having presented the list of demands and that 120 hours have passed since presenting the list. Importantly, workers’ service time isn’t affected by strikes, and companies can’t hire workers or transfer workers from other places to carry out the work of the strikes (Articles 472-496).
19) An employer who doesn’t pay their worker on time, or enough, or in a prohibited place, will be fined a minimum of 30 to a maximum of 60 UT (tax units, that go on increasing with inflation, as of May 2012, 1 UT was worth 90 bolivars or US $21) (Article 523).
20) Certain cases warrant arrest (for 6-15 months) of an employer who refuses to obey an order to rehire a worker, violating the right to strike, obstructing the work of the administrative authorities, or illegally or unjustifiably closing a workplace (Article 523).
As we see from the above points, this law not only 'unleashed a battle of ideas' in
, but will further radicalise the working class. It also has the potential to become a weapon in the hands of all those who are fighting for the rights of the working class. How this battle will be waged and in which direction this battle will progress, depends on the strength of the working class and its political maturity. Venezuela
It is these 'weapons of alternatives' which
supplies to the international working class movement that makes the ruling classes afraid. Tremble they may, but they cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Venezuela
(This article is by R.Arun kumar as printed in "Peoples' Democracy" May 27, 2012 issue)