Labor Relations in Argentinian Construction
Those trade unions that have representation rights - only one union per sector having this status - have the right to engage in collective bargaining and the right to strike. In the case of the construction sector, the Union Obrera de la Construccion de la Republica Argentina, known as UOCRA, is recognized. Founded in 1944, UOCRA recruits industry-wide, contrasting with the trade-based approach still adopted by North American unions. UOCRA negotiates with a variety of trade bodies, including the Argentinian Construction Chamber (Camara Argentina de la Construccion)-, the Federation of Argentinian Construction Organizations (Federacion Argentina de Entidades de la Construccion) and the Argentinian Association of Reinforced Concrete Employers (Asociacion Argentina del Hormigon Elaborada). The construction industry - with its fluctuating demand and mobile work locations - is not easy to organize and yet UOCRA is one of the largest trade unions in Argentina with the majority of registered workers in membership. Through its collective bargaining role and its influence via IERIC, it has a significant influence within the formal section of the construction industry.
The construction industry has a segmented labor market, with a formal and effective system of registration, coordinated through dialog between UOCRA and their employer counterparts, coexisting with a high incidence of informal working. There is a fundamental difference between the rights of registered construction workers and those who are unregistered. Workers registered with IERIC are entitled to the wages and benefits that result from collective bargaining. Pay tends to be higher and working conditions are more effectively controlled. Registration also provides the route to social benefits. Those who work informally outside the registration system are deprived of the benefits of negotiated conditions, of social security and health insurance. Given the diversity of the construction sector, informal working is most likely to be found in smaller workplaces, especially domestic and house renovation, locations that are very different from the larger and more complex sites where employers and workers will tend to be registered (OIT 2015).
The challenge of regulating working conditions and consolidating trade union organization within the construction sector is reflected throughout this volume, and in Argentina this takes a particular form that is shaped by socio-historical experience and the legacy of corporatist structures. The struggle against informality has been a cornerstone of Argentinian trade union activity in recent years and of course it is important not only that there is statutory regulation, but also that there is a system of labor inspection to ensure that regulations are observed (Ronconi 2019). Within the corporatist framework discussed above, union representatives systematically visit construction sites with the aim of monitoring the work environment, checking that the fundamental rights of construction workers are observed and seeking to ensure that workers are registered (OIT 2015). In 2004, law number 25-887 of the Labor Law created a system of labor inspections with the aim of promoting controls and reducing informal working. In general, there are likely to be fewer violations of labor law where inspection resources are committed and where there is a link between state officials and civil society organizations (such as trade unions) (Amengual 2014). This benefits workers on regulated and registered sites.
UOCRA is supported through inspections conducted by IERIC and between 2005 and 2012 they inspected 88,170 establishments covering 290,386 workers and found that almost one-third - 32.4 percent - of the workers were not registered (OIT 2015: 183). This resulted in 26,766 workers becoming registered. Clearly this is a relatively small proportion of the total and it seems that for some employers the price of non- compliance is not high. Yet the potential for inspection may itself create a measure of compliance without the intervention of an inspector, as employers recognize the price that might be paid if they were found to have been infringing regulations. Inspections are focused on larger firms - those with five or more workers (p. 182) - and are accompanied by campaigns to inform workers of their rights. The importance of IERIC’s involvement is that it can impose sanctions for the firm which has engaged an unregistered worker. Sanctions can take the form of fines, and other penalties, even including site closures (OIT 2015: 96). Clearly, it is an important system, benefiting workers and supporting union membership but it is almost impossible to conduct inspections in smaller scale projects where the most disadvantaged will be located.
Two further examples of collaborative regulation can be mentioned here - first, in the field of health and safety at work and second, in the assimilation of migrant workers.