Date: Mon, 4 May 98 18:01:11 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: LABOUR-LATAM: Decline in Rights Parallels Rise in Poverty
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Decline in Rights Parallels Rise in Poverty
By Jose Zambrano, IPS, 29 April 1998
CARACAS, Apr 29 (IPS) - The decline of economic and social rights of workers in Latin America has paralleled the rise in poverty, says a new report by the Venezuela-based Latin American Workers Central (CLAT), released in advance of May 1.
"Latin American and Caribbean workers continue working in conditions that violate essential rights," Uruguay's Luis Marius told IPS, commenting on the document by CLAT, a regional organisation with Christian Democratic roots.
"The informal sector, the denial of freedom to organise and collective bargaining, under- and unemployment, exclusion from essential services and social exclusion are the most disturbing aspects of Latin America's socioeconomic crisis," said Marius, CLAT's second-in-command.
In a "decalogue of despair," CLAT summarised the indicators of poverty that mark the lives of Latin American workers, based on United Nations statistics.
In the region there are "more than 210 million poor, 74 million of whom live in the countryside. More than 73 million people swelled the ranks of the poor from 1980 to 1994. And in just four years, from 1990 to 1994, the proportion of households living in poverty climbed from 40 to 50 percent."
More than half of all Latin Americans lack stable jobs, while the minimum urban salary in 1996 amounted to 70 percent of the 1980 level. Taking the 1980 level as a base of 100, a Peruvian worker earned only 15 in 1996, and a Mexican 30, compared to 130 in Costa Rica and 111 in Panama.
No other region has such skewed income distribution as Latin America, where the richest 10 percent take nearly 35 percent of the total income - more than 40 percent in Brazil, Chile and Colombia - while the poorest 40 percent take less than 15 percent.
In urban areas, 23 percent of households are single-parent and female-headed. A higher percentage of those homes fell into poverty in the 1980s. "The decade was a lost one for the majorities, but not for the rich and powerful minorities," said Marius.
The percentage of female-headed homes below the poverty line rose from 18 to 24 percent of all poor households from 1980 to 1994 in Argentina, from 19 to 23 percent in Brazil, from 20 to 24 percent in Colombia, from 19 to 25 percent in Paraguay, from 22 to 27 percent in Uruguay and from 22 to 25 percent in Venezuela.
Some 20 million children in the region work. In 1994, 30 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds worked in Brazil, 28 percent in Paraguay, 21 percent in Bolivia, 16 percent in Mexico, 13 percent in Colombia and 11 percent in Venezuela.
Unemployment, with the resulting infringement on the right to work, affects only 10 percent of the workforce in Latin America, say government figures, according to which only Argentina (19 percent), Dominican Republic (17 percent) and Colombia, Uruguay and Venezuela (12 percent) are severe cases.
"But the reality is different. Unemployment rates are higher than 50 percent," said Marius, because "the prevailing form of unemployment is underemployment, with precarious and informal work or micro-enterprises, and people who in their tense struggle neglect health and safety."
Labour laws have also relaxed and levels of union organising have declined, resulting in a slump in collective bargaining. Less than seven percent of workers are members of unions in Colombia, Peru and El Salvador.
The wholesale violation of the rights of workers and their organisations has many faces: 123 union leaders were killed in Colombia in 1997, while unions find it practically impossible to enter the "maquila" (foreign assembly plant) zones in Central America.
Even Cuba's socialist government "is dismantling social security, and in that it does not differ from neoliberal practices," said Marius. "Foreign companies (operating in Cuba) enjoy a flexible labour environment, while the rights of free association, bargaining and going on strike do not function."
CLAT says that economic growth in the region in the past few years, higher than that seen in industrialised countries, "has not created employment while the state has shrunk: 85 of every 100 new jobs are created in the informal economy."
Access to essential services has also declined: the majority of the poor live in precarious housing, 30 percent lack access to basic sanitation and potable water, and 23 percent have no electricity.
Thirty percent of the population, or more than 130 million people, lack access to medical services, and 44 of every 1,000 children, or 2.4 million a year, die before their fifth birthday, mainly from preventible diseases.
In 1997, 10 percent of children in Latin America showed signs of malnutrition, and the per inhabitant daily caloric intake was only 2,500 calories. Although the region is considered to have one of the highest potentials for food production, it imports 31 million tonnes of grains a year.
Education, highlighted as the crux of continent-wide integration at this month's second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, has been losing ground in the region, with constant cutbacks. Spending on education dropped from 4.3 percent of the region's combined gross domestic product in 1980 to a mere 2.8 percent in 1994.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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