SANTIAGO – The Congressional Commission for Labor in Chile has approved a bill to reduce weekly working time from 45 to 40 hours. The next step is a vote in the opposition-dominated Congress. But the government is preparing to fight back.
After a tense session of the Labor Commission of the Chilean Chamber of Deputies, a bill to reduce working hours was approved. Seven representatives voted for and six voted against the project, designed by Communist Party-members Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola.
If the bill becomes law, wages that employers pay would stay the same. The bill is now going to Congress, where the opposition holds a majority.
The vote and the debate around the bill have turned into a veritable political fight: representatives from governing coalition Chile Vamos pulled off every trick to delay the vote. Minister of Labor Nicolás Monckeberg even warned Chile may not play Copa América as players would exceed the maximum of legal working hours during such a tournament.
The Bill: Already a Political Battle
Despite the commission’s approval, the government said it will not give up without a fight. According to President Sebastián Piñera and Nicolás Monckeberg, the bill will be taken to the Constitutional Court (TC) because they think the law would be unconstitutional.
“It is a very bad project,” Monckeberg said after the approval. “It will affect employment and, in particular, the salaries of many workers (…) because none of them will be paid the same for working 37 or 35 hours.”
Monckeberg called the project “not very responsible,” especially for micro-enterprises, “because they will not be able to pay the same to a worker who works 45 hours as they pay one who works 35 or 37 hours.”
In his first response, Piñera said he would do whatever it takes to stop the bill, even if it passes all democratic and legislative procedures. Agreeing with Monckeberg, Piñera called the initiative “unconstitutional” because it involves public spending.
“Parliamentarians in Chile don’t have influence on public spending; it is an exclusive area of the president.”
Piñera added he would use all legal measures to stop the initiative. “I am confident that Congress and the Senate won’t approve unconstitutional projects. If they do approve, they are causing legal uncertainty as they are not respecting the Constitution they swore to defend. As president, I will not stand by and I will do whatever it takes to ensure the Constitution is respected.”
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.