The labor reform is moving forward in the Colombian Congress. In the second attempt, after the failure of the first one last June, one of the most ambitious social reforms of the government has managed to win approval for 16 articles of the project defended by the Minister of Labor, Gloria Ines Ramirez. Although the total of the text is made up of 98 sections, those approved have generated all kinds of expectations among citizens, since among them are the approval of the beginning of the night shift at 7 pm and the remuneration with a 100% surcharge for work on Sundays and holidays. The session was suspended yesterday and will not resume until February of next year.
Among the government’s so-called social reforms, the labor reform seems to be the most complex. In fact, for now, few articles have been validated in the debates of the parliamentary sessions. However, yesterday, Thursday, December 14, was the first step towards achieving the necessary consensus to approve a text that is still under discussion.
What has been approved so far
What has been approved so far is that night work, which is subject to a 35% surcharge, will start at 7 pm, and not at 9 pm as at present. In addition, the text also recovers the 100% surcharge, and not 75% as it is currently, for work performed on Sundays and holidays. This increase will be progressive: from July 2024 it will be 80%; in July 2025, it will be 90% and in July 2026 it will be 100%.
Other minor points agreed yesterday are along the lines of addressing workplace harassment, violence and discrimination at work; the inclusion of ethnic communities and victims of the armed conflict in the labor world; an article defining that digital delivery platforms must assume 60% of the social security of delivery drivers; human supervision of automated systems; and the regulation of migrant labor in the country, an important aspect considering the significant number of Venezuelan workers living in Colombia in recent years.
Collective rights, the main obstacle
However, there are still points that are far from reaching a final agreement. For now, the main one is the point that talks about collective rights. When the bill was presented for the second time, in July, some representatives of employers’ unions spoke of the inconvenience of accepting the workers’ “right to unionize“.
This is a right that the law not only recognizes, but also clearly promotes, in order to give the workers’ collective more strength to negotiate their labor rights collectively. This was defended by the Vice Minister of Labor Relations and Inspection, Edwin Palma.
“It has not pleased business sectors (…) that the labor reform bill recognizes the workers’ right to concentrated and expanded collective bargaining. Concentrated in the rule of (…) a single table, as it has been operating for 10 years in the public sector. They say it is unconstitutional, I believe this is not true or as if the law did not change or the Constitutional Court could not resolve the debate on the effects of its decision in 2008. Extended to other levels beyond the company, as in most OECD countries, it is enshrined in ILO Convention 154, which has been part of our domestic legislation since 1999, and ILO Recommendation 163″.
Satisfaction of the Minister of Labor
The Minister of Labor expressed her satisfaction, since yesterday’s events represent a small, and necessary, personal victory to defend her performance at the head of the Ministry. It should be recalled that Ramirez has also been immersed for weeks in the negotiation to establish the minimum wage in Colombia for 2024. This debate should result today, Friday, in an agreement between unions and employers, otherwise the ministry has the power to set the wage before the 30th of this month.
If the labor reform is finally approved, the new surcharges could benefit a total of 450,000 people. The minister spoke last night of the importance for the government of achieving the consensus obtained yesterday on sensitive articles of its reform proposal.
“There are two articles that are fundamental for us, because they are the recovery of workers’ rights, which Law 789 had cut back, such as the case of the day and night working day, which must have a 35% surcharge, and the payment of Sundays and holidays, which is now at 75% and is returning to what it was, which was one hundred percent, in a progressive manner”, said Ramírez.
What remains to be agreed
In addition to fixing the collective rights of workers, what remains to be agreed upon in the reform project is the increase of paternity leave to 12 weeks, achieving wage equality between men and women, prioritizing the indefinite term contract and reducing labor outsourcing, in order to favor job stability.
These are all complex points but, beyond collective rights, which radically confronts conservative politicians with government allies, the rest of the measures do not face greater opposition than the articles that have already been approved.
In any case, the parliamentary discussion is postponed for two months: it will have to be resumed in February, and the necessary pacts will have to be sought to obtain its final approval. This is something that, undoubtedly, the government urgently needs in order to be able to present concrete achievements and fulfill its electoral program right in the middle of its term of office.