Students protest for new youth labor law

SANTIAGO – A legislative leftover from President Piñera’s first government has caused outrage this week. About a dozen students were detained protesting the bill. “We will remain on the streets to defend our rights,” said a representative of high school students.

On July 14, congress approved a law that dates from President Piñera’s first term. The Youth Labor Rule enables students from 18 to 24 years to seek formal employment while studying. But because opponents claim the law doesn’t include a guarantee for secure labor conditions, protests erupted quickly. Outside the education ministry, students protested by trying to chain themselves to the main entrance. Because of rapid intervention by the Carabineros, they didn’t succeed, however.

According to news outlet 24 Horas, the representative of the high school student association, Amanda Luna, claimed the legislation worsens labor conditions and undermines Chilean families. Luna also called all Chilean students to take to the streets again on August 9 and 23.

“We will remain on the streets to defend our rights. There are more than 250,000 that need to study and work. That’s why we reject the Youth Labor Policy, and we demand it be withdrawn. We won’t be cheap labor force for their enterprises anymore,” the leader said.

Juan Pablo Latorre, president of Universidad de Santiago’s influential students federation, demanded then education minister Gerardo Varela takes a stand. “We don’t get why minister Varela keeps quiet, we don’t know whether he wants us to solve the problem playing bingo again,” Latorre said, invoking the minister’s earlier suggestion that colleges organize bingos to raise money.

Latorre explained that the bill doesn’t contemplate essential workers’ rights such as sick pay, union organizing, or pre- and post-natal leaves.

The initiative also received hard criticism from the Unitary Center of Workers, the National Association of Employees, and the National Association of Fiscal Employees. As reported by Universidad de Chile’s news site, those critics pointed at the worsening of youth work conditions, as among other aspects, the law implies that young employees could lose their jobs if they abandon their studies.

From the other side, business organizations like the Confederation for Production and Commerce, said the project is positive as it deals with the country’s urgent needs. For them, the law decreases youth unemployment and higher education desertion, produced by the need for working.

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