Colombian President Gustavo Petro suffered a defeat yesterday when his controversial labor reform bill failed to pass out of committee to the Colombian house of representatives due to a lack of quorum. Unless Congress holds an extraordinary session, legislative work now closes until the next session begins in late July.
Along with health reform and pension reform, the far-reaching labor bill is an axis of Petro’s agenda to remake significant portions of Colombian society. Colombia already has relatively inflexible labor laws, prohibiting for example, part time hourly work, and making part-time shifts a practical impossibility. Petro’s labor reform would add pay surcharges to any work after 6pm, double pay for Sunday work, and curtail the ability to enter into temporary labor contracts.
Like many Latin American countries, and developing countries around the world, Colombia suffers from high informality in labor markets, as small businesses and workers take their chances in a cash economy rather than attempting to follow the country’s complex labor laws. Entities that employ day labor, for example during events and festivals warned that the law would make their work an impossibility, as it restricts repeated short-term employment, for example in a catering service, audiovisual crews, or even freelance journalists.
While Petro’s pension reform bill passed a Senate committee last week, prospects also look dim for Petro’s health reform bill which envisions a government takeover of the country’s “EPS” (Health Providing Entity, for its initials in Spanish) system, replacing it with what Petro sees as a network of community clinics.
Petro, who in a speech last week lamented the fall of the Berlin Wall as a blow against worker’s rights, and called for an end to free markets in a speech at a German foundation, took to Twitter to express his bitterness at his labor reform failure. He often blames “the owners of capital” for any disagreement with his agenda.
El hundimienho de la reforma laboral es muy grave. Demuestra que la voluntad de paz y de pacto social no existe en el poder económico. Dueños del capital y de los medios lograron cooptar el Congreso en contra de la dignidad del pueblo trabajador.
Creen que las ganancias salen de…
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) June 20, 2023
“The collapse of the labor reform is very serious. It shows that the desire for peace and a social pact does not exist in economic power. Owners of capital and the media managed to co-opt Congress against the dignity of the working people. They believe that profits come from slavery, long hours and complete job instability. The government of change will not abandon the interests of the workers.”
He went on to issue a call for his followers to protest, saying: “It continues to be certain that there is no labor reform that can be won in the world without the workers in the streets and in social struggle.”
The agony of defeat was evident in the mood of Petro’s coalition. One congresswoman, Maria Fernanda Carrascal, was so beside herself that on the floor of congress, she passionately protested Colombian workers toiling for “more than 60 hours per day!”
— Revista Semana (@RevistaSemana) June 20, 2023