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Labor Reform in Colombia: The Second Attempt


Colombia Labor Reform
Minister Ramirez will present the second attempt at labor reform in the congress of Colombia. Credit: Public Domain

The Minister of Labor, Gloria Ines Ramirez, will present the second attempt at labor reform in the Colombian Congress in the coming days. On June 20th, the initial project definitively failed due to a lack of debate. At that time, the opposition generated criticism over the alleged high costs that the reform would entail for companies, despite the fact that all sectors believe it is necessary.

First Failed Project

Labor reform is one of the major proposed changes on President Gustavo Petro’s agenda. However, the first project presented for debate in Congress failed in the Seventh Commission of the House of Representatives due to lack of a quorum. It was withdrawn at the end of June, coinciding with the end of the first year of the legislative term.

The proposal was never discussed, and the Minister of Labor, Gloria Ines Ramirez, was criticized for not attending the commission. The minister was traveling in Spain at the time, fulfilling her political agenda. Some political opponents questioned why the Minister of Labor didn’t modify her schedule to attend such an important session in the Seventh Commission.

President Petro himself labeled the incident as “very serious.” According to the president, what happened “shows that there is no will for peace and social pact in economic power. Capital owners and media have managed to co-opt the Congress against the dignity of the working people.”

A few days ago, some sources announced the warning that President Petro gave to his ministers. It was stated that they had a month to advance reforms and achieve results, or they would be asked to leave the council of ministers; 11 members have already left since the start of the government’s term a year ago.

The president’s warnings seem to be having the desired effect, and after the controversial failure of the first attempt at labor reform, this would be the first proposal to be restructured in order to successfully proceed through parliamentary approval.

Labor Reform 2.0 in Colombia

According to Blu Radio, the new reform project will be called “Labor Reform 2.0.” The changes introduced by the ministry are in line with not increasing costs in hiring, as some experts requested. In this regard, the previous project was criticized for not considering worker benefits and ensuring companies could afford them.

However, as expressed by the Deputy Minister of Labor Relations, Edwin Palma, the new text will continue to seek an “agreement to carry out a labor reform that generates employment, reduces informality, democratizes labor relations, and dignifies work.”

In this context, the elimination of the concept of “forced job stability,” for example in the case of pregnant women, sick workers, or those close to retirement, would proceed along these lines. This way, layoffs of workers in these circumstances would not be restricted by law.

Another point criticized in the first project and revised in the second version is the right to strike in the public sector. In this sense, the idea of being able to call for a strike with only a third of workers in favor is abandoned, returning to the requirement of a majority decision.

Regarding night shift pay, it would start from 7 pm, with gradual increases for holidays and Sundays.

The concept of collective bargaining by unions on behalf of an entire economic sector has also been changed.

Finally, there won’t be new justifiable reasons for dismissal in a supposed expansion of fixed-term contracts.

Similarly, regulations will be established for special contracts for delivery drivers, and for online applications.

Agreement on the Need for Reform

Where agreement seems to exist is in the need to reform a labor market where more than half of workers are employed under informal conditions. This extensive and diverse sector is highly detrimental as it doesn’t contribute regularly to the state’s revenue. The wealth generated, which in some cases only provides basic sustenance for workers, doesn’t contribute to public revenue. Without it, the redistribution of wealth, which the Petro government sees as the primary function of the state, is not possible.

Colombia Labor Reform
One objective of the labor reform is to reduce the informality rate that exceeds 50%. Credit: Jdvillalobos / CC VY 3.0

To achieve this, Congress must reach the necessary consensus for this Reform 2.0 to succeed. It should be noted that the government doesn’t have sufficient majority in the chambers to unilaterally approve the reform.

The bill no longer needs to be submitted to the labor and salary policies consultation board. Whether or not it wins approval will depend on the consensus reached in parliamentary debate. And it must be done in the current context, with slower economic growth and inflation that, for now, remains above 10%.

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