“We need to find the balance between labour reform and winning elections,” Labour Minister Jorge Triaca declared this week, during an open and frank talk addressing Argentina’s economic competitiveness and upcoming labour reform in Washington DC.
The discussion, hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center and moderated by the director of its Argentine Project, Benjamin Gedan, examined the challenges facing his ministry in detail, touching on the challenges, and successes faced by his team and the Mauricio Macri administration at large.
“Over the last decade, the only thing that grew was public employment. This has now changed in the last two years – there are [now] 10 new private sector jobs to every public sector job created,” highlighted Triaca, as he defended the government’s record.
The Labour minister, on a brief trip to the US, explained how the Macri administration was seeking to increase private-sector employment, while at the same time introducing voluntary retirement programmes to reduce public-sector employment. A 2016 report by the Labour Ministry said that public-setor employees made up 26 percent of total employment in Argentina.
At least 31 of the biggest metropolitan areas have witnessed an increase in employment under Macri’s leadership of the country, with overall construction growing by two percent, Triaca stated. The energy and agricultural sectors were a primary driver of that growth, he added.
But while he praised the improvement, the Labour minister recognised that the government still faced many challenges, particuarly with informal labour making up around 35 percent of the workforce, not being officially registered.
“We are planning a law that will help workers in an informal situation, where employers get an amnesty to register them,” Triaca said.
When asked by Gedan how difficult it was and had been to carry out such reforms, the Labour minister explained that the ministry was using a combination of ‘stick and carrot’ policies to push them through, paying close attention to lessons they had learned from previous administrations.
One of the examples he cited was that of ex-Radical president Raul Alfonsín’s administration, whose attempted labour reforms in the 1980s was met with a strong backlash from unions.
“In the Alfonsín era, they tried to change certain aspects, causing confrontations, we are trying to make more rounded reforms. They will be permanent, but it’s like pushing an elephant that you have to start to move,” said the Labour minister.
“To sustain our reforms, we need to win elections, which is the most important thing [if we are] to continue our change from populism,” Triaca said.