January 16, 2018 / 3:01 PM / a year ago

Argentina pushes back labor reform debate as opposition grows

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Argentina will not call extraordinary congressional sessions in February, Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena said in a press conference on Tuesday, effectively postponing the debate over a planned labor reform until at least March.

The reform, which aims to lower costs for employers and formalize the situation of unregistered workers, was sent to Congress last year after market-friendly President Mauricio Macri’s “Let’s Change” coalition swept legislative elections.

Pena said on Tuesday it had been drafted in consultation with the country’s main umbrella labor union, the CGT. But in radio interviews in recent days, a CGT leader expressed opposition to the reform, and Miguel Pichetto, the leader of the opposition Peronist bloc in the Senate, said he saw “no urgency” to debate the bill.

“We have listened to the various parliamentary blocs, who think they can discuss this in ordinary sessions in a more extensive manner, to build greater consensus. We have no problem with that,” Pena told reporters.

Pena had said last month that Congress would take up the reform in February.

The delay comes after the government’s successful passage of a pension reform bill last month triggered violent protests and a decline in Macri’s approval rate. Out of a list of 16 policy areas, respondents to a January Ipsos poll said they were least satisfied with the government’s policy toward retirees.

Just 44 percent of respondents in the poll said they approved of Macri’s administration, while 45 percent said they disapproved. That approval rating was down from 54 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 and marked the lowest of his term, which began in December 2015.

The proposed labor reform includes an amnesty for companies employing workers off-the-books to regularize their situation, aims to curb litigation by workers and puts a lighter social security burden on employers. The private sector has long argued for more flexibility in labor regulations in Latin America’s No. 3 economy, where unions hold substantial political power.

Pena said the government would also push a “political reform” that would reduce the number of political appointees employed by the government by 20 percent. (Reporting by Luc Cohen and Eliana Raszewski; Editing by David Gregorio)

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