Capital: Buenos Aires
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
During the year there were cases of employers failing to respect collective agreements. There were also some blatant anti-union dismissals, such as the mass dismissal of 25 workers by a tyre company simply for belonging to the union.
Trade union rights in law
Freedom of association: Under the Constitution, workers have the right to join and form free democratic trade unions, which are then officially recognised when entered into a special register. Trade unions are regulated by Law 23551, adopted in 1988. All workers – with the exception of military personnel – are free to join and form trade unions, without prior authorisation, at industry, company or branch level, as well as craft unions. Two or more unions may establish a federation, and two or more federations may establish a confederation.
Trade union leaders must be appointed by direct and secret ballot of the rank and file. They may hold office for no more than four years, but they can be re-elected.
Collection of union dues by "check-off" is mandatory under the trade union law.
Restrictions: There are certain legal restrictions affecting freedom of association, however, notably the fact that only one trade union – the most representative one – in a given industrial sector and within a specific geographical region, may be certified as having "union personality" ("personería gremial"), which enables it to negotiate wages or collect dues.
For a union to be certified as having "union personality" – which confers, inter alia, exclusive collective bargaining rights – it must: (a) be officially registered and have been operating for at least six months; (b) have a membership covering not less than 20 per cent of the workers it intends to represent, and (c) be the most representative trade union in the relevant industry or branch, within a given geographical area (generally a city or province, though in some cases, the whole country).
Collective bargaining: The law allows collective bargaining at national, regional, provincial or company level.
For a collective agreement to be binding, it must be approved by the Ministry of Labour pursuant to Law 14.250, which aims to protect workers' interests by ensuring that the clauses of collective agreements do not affect their rights under national law and preventing the implementation of collective agreements that could weaken those rights.
Strikes: Article 14b of the Constitution guarantees unions the right to strike. Decree 272/06 of Employment Law 25.877 established regulations on the right to strike as it applies to essential services that are in compliance with ILO Convention 87.
Protection for trade unionists: The legal system prohibits any action that impedes or obstructs the regular exercise of the rights related to freedom of association. Article 47 of Act No. 23.551, provides that all workers or trade union associations prevented or hindered from normal exercise of the rights of freedom of association guaranteed by this Act, may have recourse to the competent law court with a view to obtaining the recognition of those rights, in accordance with the procedure established in Article 498 of the National Code on Civil and Commercial Procedures or in the corresponding codes at provincial level, so that said court may order the immediate cessation of the anti-union behaviour.
The Trade Union Law prohibits certain unfair labour practices, including employers' interference in trade union activities, anti-union discrimination, dismissal of workers who engage in trade union activities, refusal to engage in collective bargaining and obstruction of the collective bargaining process. Complaints for unfair labour practices can be lodged with the judiciary. Unfair practices are precluded under Article 55 of Act 23.551, which authorises judges to order the cessation of the unfair practice or to take measures to that effect, including fines.
Trade union rights in practice
Union recognition refused: In recent years there have been a number of cases in which legal provisions have been used to reject union registration applications and, accordingly, union "personality". The trade union centre, Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA), has consistently been denied official recognition.
Violations in 2006
Background: In 2005 the Supreme Court abolished two laws known as "punto final" ("full stop") and "obediencia debida" ("due obedience"), thereby allowing the trials for state terrorism to begin. The safety of the witnesses became a serious concern, after some suffered intimidation and one 77-year old key witness "disappeared".
Trade unionists harassed, intimidated and dismissed: The Córdoba branch of the tyre-makers' union, Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Neumático Argentino (SUTNA), which is affiliated to the CTA, got involved in a dispute with the company "Neumáticos de Avanzada" (NA) in early August, when NA began laying off workers who had joined the union. Things turned nasty when the company tried to repress the strike organised by SUTNA in support of its 25 sacked members. The situation worsened further in October, when trade union members started being harassed and threatened. A security guard told the Deputy General Secretary of SUTNA, Rubén Silva, that he had told the strikers that he would "break their bones". NA refused to take part in a compulsory reconciliation procedure, thereby rejecting any chance of dialogue. The conflict had originated with the union's signing of a national agreement covering the rubber industry with their management counterparts, for the first time in 31 years.
Smurfit Kappa refuses to honour wage agreement: In July, some 200 employees of Smurfit Kappa belonging to the ICEM-affiliated Federación de Obreros y Empleados de la Industria del Papel, Cartón y Químicos covering the paper industry, went on strike as the company refused to pay the 12 per cent wage increase that had been secured after a long battle. The company referred the workers to a national agreement covering the paper industry but the General Secretary of the paper workers federation insisted that earlier promises constituted an acquired right and the workers refused to back down.
Dismissed for being a CTA member ... : The US car manufacturer Ford unfairly dismissed Guillermo Carrera in December when he was elected as the CTA union representative. The company justified its decision based on some earlier, alleged "offences" which had already been successfully refuted. The CTA began a campaign to secure his reinstatement.
... and fighting for gender equality: The day before his dismissal the CTA had been organising support for 36 women doing cleaning work for an outsourced firm, who were not covered by the collective agreement signed by the engineering and car workers' union SMATA and were getting paid just half the rate for a man doing the same job.
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