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Protests Against Peru's Labour Law Multiply, But Government Holds Firm

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Image by Tomate Colectivo, used with permission.

Ever since the first demonstration against recent legislation in Peru known as Ley Pulpin was held on December 18, opposition has continued to grow. Just four days later, a second youth march took place in the capital city of Lima to protest the government's law No. 30288, “An Act Promoting Youth Access to the Labour Market and Social Protection.”

Lima. 2nd march, Monday, December 22, 5 p.m. in Campo de Marte #Pulpin Law#Youth Employment without Exploitation

Image reads, “No to curtailing worker rights. Young people demand decent work. It's only fair!”

The law allows for employers to cut employment benefits, such as social security, life insurance, bonuses, and holiday benefits for young employees between the ages of 18 and 24. The government claims the new law will reduce youth unemployment and help the poorest people with little experience. According to official figures, the unemployment rate for those aged between 18 and 24 is four times higher than those aged 30 to 65.

But critics expect these corporations will use the law to fire older employees and replace them with young people. 

In order to avoid accusations of unnecessary violence, the Minister of the Interior had announced that this time police would not carry weapons and would use white gloves as a symbol of peace to maintain order. But he also indicated that for security reasons, demonstrators would have to show their national identity cards, a measure that Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara later denied:

To exercise the Right to Protest (peacefully), enshrined in the Constitution, NO prior identification of participants is required.

In the lead-up to the demonstrations, the debate over the supposed costs and benefits of the controversial law made headlines in mainstream media, opinion columns, and social media. Positions ranged from business pragmatism, whereby companies should be given certain incentives to hire young, inexperienced workers, to unconditional defense of labour rights by activists and young people themselves concerned about having to compete on an uneven playing field.

The government, however, has not positioned itself for dialogue, offering instead a vigorous and unilateral defense of its legislation.

[President] #Ollanta says #LeyPulpin will go forward and calls on young people to read the law. Someone tell him there was a huge protest yesterday!

Blogger Marco Sauna writes about the law saying, “Initially I rejected it, until I found out a bit more and accepted it.” He explains:

para empezar esta norma no está dirigida para los jóvenes que gracias a sus estudios, prácticas pre o pro profesionales, intercambios, estudios extracurriculares, entre otras preparaciones académicas, sí son más empleables, en ese sentido ellos sí pueden postular a un régimen laboral de su conveniencia porque quizás las oportunidades y su empleabilidad lo permite. Mientras que para los que no tienen estas mismas oportunidades o ya se encuentran bajo un sistema informal, esta norma les otorgará beneficios sociales y laborales, es decir, horas extras, 15 días de vacaciones, derecho a su liquidación, ingreso a la planilla y con ello al sistema financiero y si bien no tienen los otros beneficios laborales o algunos están recortados, pues estos son compensados por la capacitación, que por su condición y por lo caro que puede ser estudiar en el Perú, compensa en cierta medida este desequilibrio.

To begin with, the regulation is not aimed at those young people who by virtue of their education, vocational studies and training, exchanges, extracurricular courses and other academic experience are indeed more employable—these people can apply for suitable employment because they likely have the necessary opportunities and skillsets. But for those who don't have the same opportunties or who already find themselves working in the grey economy, this legislation will give them access to social and employment programs such as paid overtime, 15 days of vacation, severance pay, payroll registration and, with that, access to the formal financial system. And even if they don't get other employment benefits or only limited ones, they are compensated by on-the-job training, which given the high cost of education in Peru, counteracts this imbalance to a certain extent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Louis Davelouis notes several points made by the government's promotional campaign and responds to each one. In particular, he comments on whom the legislation targets and affects:

La Ley es para todos los jóvenes que estén al menos 90 días sin trabajar o para los que nunca han trabajado, sí, pero también afectará a quienes ya tienen empleo, incluso a aquellos que estén por encima del rango de edad. ¿Por qué? Porque el grupo de jóvenes de entre 18 y 24 años creado por la nueva ley será más competitivo por precio. […] En realidad, la ley afectará a quienes están en planilla en la medida que los contratos no se renueven o se produzcan despidos. En los empleos de baja productividad, los jóvenes mayores de 24 deberán competir con jóvenes más baratos por los mismos puestos. Bajar la valla de un piso afecta a todo el escalafón del empleo de baja productividad…

The law is designed for all young people who have been unemployed for at least 90 days or those who have never worked—correct—but it will also affect those who already have jobs, even those who are above the age range. Why? Because the category of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 years, as established by the new law, will be more competitive in terms of wages [ … ] In fact, the law will affect those who are on the payroll already to the extent that contracts will not renewed or layoffs will occur. In low-productivity jobs, young people over age 24 will have to compete against cheaper workers for the same positions. Lowering the bar on labour costs has an impact on the entire structure of low-productivity employment…

All this discussion, which is not limited to the opinions expressed here, seems to have motivated greater numbers of young people to leave the places where they live, study, and work and walk out into the streets to protest the legislation. On December 22, hundreds of demonstrators initially gathered on the Plaza San Martín and Campo de Marte, both located in the heart of the Peruvian capital. As their ranks swelled to several thousand, the young people later began walking peacefully towards the Congress, along Arequipa avenue in the direction of San Isidro and Miraflores.

The marchers reached #JavierPrado, and the line is now several blocks long, down with #LeyPulpin

Although the young people had also headed towards the neighbourhood of Miraflores in the previous march—something unusual in protests, which are usually restricted to downtown Lima—this time, they decided to add a further stop on their route and wound their way through the streets of San Isidro in the direction of the headquarters of Peru's National Confederation of Private Business Associations (CONFIEP).

Demonstrators shout to executives: Listen I will NOT be your slave. #leypulpin #22D

When they eventually reached the Miraflores district, the crowd of eager young people counted some 15 to 20,000 marchers and managed to bring traffic to a standstill along many of Lima's major arteries; this resulted in a few complaints.

#22D video #drone #LeyPulpín- March against the Regime Wilson, JavierPrado, Kennedy

After a while, the demonstration split along several routes, and one stream returned to Plaza San Martín, some 70 blocks away. In a final gesture, protesters sang the national anthem and dispersed, though a few violent clashes occurred between police and certain elements the police themselves qualified as “infiltrators“.

The political arena has begun to show the first cracks in reaction to these events. Some of the members of Congress who had voted in favour of the legislation have now withdrawn their support; still others have proposed amendments. The executive branch, however, shows no signs of backing down.

The satirical website El Panfleto took a serious turn and more or less summed up what was in the minds of many:

Aunque parezca exagerado, la distancia que separa nuestra carrera universitaria de haber sido peones de una hacienda, a la orden de un omnipotente gamonal, es muy corta. Y […] hubo muchos procesos que nuestros padres, abuelas y bisabuelas llevaron adelante: tomas de tierras de haciendas, creación de escuelas rurales por parte de las comunidades, frentes de defensa, huelgas generales e invasión de barriadas, que pretendieron que las descendencias, nosotros, no suframos lo que ellas y ellos sí. Chibola pulpín, ese Ipad que tienes en las manos, esa pensión universitaria depositada puntualmente, costaron décadas de luchas. No decepciones a la historia, es tu turno de defender los derechos de tu generación y de los que vengan. Deroguen esa ley.

 

Strange as it may seem, the span that separates our university degrees from our status as labourers on the great estates, at the mercy of an omnipotent tyrant, is in fact very short. And [ … ] many steps were taken by our parents, grandmothers and great-grandmothers to bring us forward: the reclaiming of agricultural land, the creation of rural schools by local communities, militias, general strikes and squatter settlements—all of which were done to prevent their descendants, us, from having to suffer as they had. Chibola pulpín [Peruvian slang for over-indulged young person], that iPad you have in your hands, that allowance deposited regularly, they come at the price of decades of struggle. Don't turn your back on history; it is up to you now to defend the rights of your generation and those to come. Repeal the law.

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