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Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 12:52:11 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: LABOUR-LATAM: Union Rights Threatened as Unemployment Rises
Article: 84948
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.8609.19991218121515@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Union Rights Threatened as Unemployment Rises

By Abraham Lama, IPS, 16 December 1999

LIMA, Dec 16 (IPS) - Workers in Latin America and the Caribbean face the new millennium with growing unemployment and reduced social security and labour rights, according to reports from two international organisations released this week.

Victor Tokman, regional director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) presented Labour Panorama 1999, which indicates that the region's unemployment rate averaged nine percent for the first three quarters of the year.

It is the highest unemployment since 1983 and means there are 18 million people without work in urban areas of Latin America and the Caribbean, he stated.

The ILO maintains that economic growth is essential for improving the labour situation and believes that the outlook for next year shows a recovery trend, with a drop in unemployment to 8.3 percent and regional economic growth at 3.7 percent.

Recovery has already begun in several countries, but its major impacts will not be evident until the second half of next year, according to the report.

The document warns that, due to the lag between gross domestic product (GDP) growth and employment, it will take approximately one year to reduce unemployment rates to the region's normal levels.

The ILO report agrees with the Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT) report in pin-pointing the causes of rising unemployment on the economic and social impacts of the world financial crisis, and of the measures the region's governments adopted to confront it.

The ongoing recession in most Latin American and Caribbean countries aggravated unemployment in 1999, reaching levels similar to those reported during the foreign debt crisis of 1983, says the ILO.

ORIT, meanwhile, released its annual report on the situation of Latin America's trade unions, Wednesday, which underscores the ongoing deterioration of basic workers' rights in the region.

Law reforms and labour codes adopted by most Latin American countries as they adapt to globalisation and react to the international financial crisis have created this deterioration, says the ORIT document.

Rights such as union freedoms, collective bargaining, and access to social security are on the decline, according to the report.

In 1999, 15 Latin American trade union leaders were assassinated, 20 were physically threatened, and 11 were imprisoned.

Most cases involving threatened lives occurred in Colombia, but similar anti-union practices are on the rise in countries like Ecuador and Guatemala.

The ILO report, meanwhile, underscores that unemployment and poverty are closely linked.

The region's average unemployment rate for low-income workers reached 15.2 percent this year, 1.7 times more than the urban average, 2.3 times greater than unemployment among middle-income workers, and 4.2 times more than workers from households at the highest income levels.

The ILO document shows that 59 percent of the region's urban unemployed come from low-income households, while the unemployment rate fo urban women jumps to 17.5 percent - double the general rate.

From the gender point of view, unemployment grew for men from 7.2 to 8.2 percent in the first three quarters of the year, while in the same period, women's unemployment increased from 9.5 to 10.2 percent, stresses the ILO.

According to international organisaton's standards, a country's labour performance is measured based on the evolution of indicators such as reducing open unemployment, improving the quality of employment (reducing the informal sector), increasing real wages, and expanding the product per worker.

This year the ILO left the category of high labour performance blank in its report, a status granted to both Panama and Uruguay last year.

The two countries fell to the next category, medium labour performance, sharing it with Barbados, Chile, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.

The nations included in the low labour performance category, meaning their situation grew worse this year, are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Peru and Venezuela.

Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Paraguay were not categorised due to lack of information.

Unemployment rates in just four countries - Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago - did not increase compared to last year's rates.

Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela reported double digit unemployment, with rates varying from 10 to nearly 20 percent.

An expanding informal sector - where workers earn less and usually do not have any kind of social protection - is seen as an indicator of labour deterioration. In Latin America, the informal sector grew 4.1 percent in the first nine months of this year.