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New labor law empowers workers in Venezuela

Published Jun 2, 2012 8:51 PM

Imagine a labor law written by workers.

In Venezuela, on May 1 — International Workers’ Day — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez signed just such a law, the result of a massive consultation with Venezuelan workers, inscribing “social justice” beside his signature.

The law replaces some of the provisions that were stripped from a 1936 labor law in 1997, but goes further to severely curtail a basic underpinning of capitalism — its power and authority to hire and dismiss workers to exploit their labor. The provisions of the Organic Law on Work and Workers are a stunning contrast to the capitalist shock-and-awe forced on workers in the U.S.

Last January, Oswaldo Vera, president of the National Assembly’s Commission of Integral Social Development in Venezuela, said the law would “address two main issues: the role of workers in building a new society and the historical confrontation of labor and capital.” He predicted the new law would “pave the way for new changes in the means of production so that labor [can] stop being merchandise and become the main source of development.” (tinyurl.com/7ndwe3q)

As outlined in a summary provided by the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, some important provisions from this process are:

Expanded workplace anti-discrimination laws added nationality, sexuality, membership in a labor union, prior criminal record, or any type of disability. “The law states that all persons have the right to work and the duty to do so in accordance with their capacities, including those with [disabilities].” The right of people with disabilities to dignified work and the full development of their potential is outlined in a dedicated chapter calling for employers to set aside 5 percent of jobs for them.

Job security and stability is increased. To legally fire or lay off workers, the boss must go to court to prove there is a legal basis for the termination. An unjustly fired worker has 10 days to appeal to the court, which can order reinstatement with back pay. Bosses failing to respond to the court can be jailed. In addition, severance pay is owed to workers who leave a job for any reason, with a minimum of two months’ salary for each year worked and a possible additional maximum of 30 days pay, at the rate of two days pay for every year worked after the first year. Workers unjustly fired who elect not to return to their former job are entitled to double severance.

Outsourcing is banned. No longer can employers avoid labor laws by hiring through outside firms.

Shorter work week, reduced from 44 hours to 40 hours, with two full consecutive days of rest. The law maintains a 15-day minimum annual vacation plus an additional day for each year worked, to a maximum of 30 days. Vacation and year-end bonuses are doubled.

Maternity leave expanded to 26 weeks full pay, including for adoption and two-week paternity leave. Childcare facilities, already required in workplaces with more than 20 workers, must include special areas for the two 30-minute breaks for nursing women. For employees at workplaces that lack proper facilities, nursing women are now entitled to two hour-and-a-half breaks. Discrimination against women who are pregnant is barred; no pay reduction for pregnant or nursing women. Women and men with children under two years of age are protected from losing their jobs.

Pension rights expanded to include all workers, with retirement generally at age 55 for women and age 60 for men. This includes workers in the formal and informal sectors, women who remain at home to care for their families, and independent workers or freelancers.

These improvements result from the input of women’s organizations. An International Women’s Day march delivered demands to the president last March 8. Nicholas Maduro, who is head of the Presidential Commission for the Organic Labor Law, said, “This law proposes conditions to overcome definitively capitalist exploitation and to create free, egalitarian labor conditions for the homeland and social development.” Maduro recalled that the law is the product of years of labor struggles and was discussed in popular assemblies held throughout the country since 2008, bringing more than 19,000 proposals to the commission. (tinyurl.com/d9n5mug)