RIGHTS OF LABOR
A. General Considerations
1. The Constitution of Argentina recognizes the right to work and the right of association for useful purposes. It guarantees labor rights in their diverse forms, and ensures the worker decent and fair working conditions, a limited workday, paid rest and vacation, fair compensation, an adjustable minimum wage, participation in the profits of companies, along with control of production and collaboration in management, protection against arbitrary discharge, stability in public employment and free and democratic labor union organization. The latter is accomplished by simple inscription in a special registry.
The Argentine constitutional system also guarantees that unions may negotiate collective bargaining agreements, resort to conciliation and arbitration, and go out on strike. Union representatives are constitutionally accorded all the necessary guarantees for the operation of the union as well as stability of employment. The State extends the benefits of social security on a full and irrevocable basis, which includes obligatory social security and other relevant benefits.1
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man embodies the rights to work and to fair remuneration, to rest and to its enjoyment, to social security as well as the rights of assembly and association.2
B. Restriction of Trade Union and Labor Association Rights
1. The Act for the National Reorganization Process of March 24, 1976, one of the first measures adopted by the military government, undertook the suspension of labor union activities of workers, businessmen and professionals. On that same day, in Communiqué Nº 5, the public was informed that the military had intervened in the General Labor Confederation and the General Economic Confederation. Under the terms of this communiqué, the funds of these confederations were frozen and rights of labor organizations were suspended.3
The aforementioned decisions contradict the basic objectives of the military government itself. These objectives are to “secure the general welfare through productive labor, equality of opportunity and an adequate sense of social justice,” and to promote “harmonious relationships among the state, capital and labor, which includes strong development of business and trade union structures, suited to their specific purposes.”4
2. The following measures taken by the Government have adversely affected trade union and labor organizations and restricted their constitutionally recognized rights:
i) Suspension by decree of union activities of labor, businessmen and professional organizations and the prohibition throughout the entire country of the activities of the organization known as 62 Organizaciones;
ii) National suspension of the right to strike and of all other measures of force, work stoppage, interruption or slowdown of work or its performance on conditions that affect production by workers, businessmen and their respective organizations, with the imposition of penalties and procedures to apply in furtherance of the regulatory standards of the national security system;
iii) The dissolution and declaration of illegality of several labor unions which involved revoking their legal personality, closing their bank accounts and incorporating their assets and stock into the patrimony of the State;
iv) Extension to the Executive branch of the power of suspending all direct action methods by either employers or workers such as lock-out, work stoppage or slowdown, and the imposition of a prison sentence of up to 10 years, as well as the loss of the workers’ remuneration. Workers may be suspended without indemnity, or their individual work contracts declared null and void, if they are placed at the disposition of the Executive, either with or without legal protection of labor rights.5
3. The Institutional Act that deals with the conduct of persons responsible for harming the national interest states as causes, among others, the non-observance of basic moral principles, or serious negligence in the exercise of labor functions, and gives the Military Junta the power to determine and indicate those who have acted in this way, and to deprive them of their labor organization rights and to exact other penalties.6
C. The trade union situation
1. It is a matter of concern to the Commission that for several years, but especially since March 24, 1976, trade union leaders have been held prisoner in industrial centers of Argentina without judicial order, detained at the disposition of the Executive (PEN) or have disappeared.7
The operation of major labor organizations has also been subject to state intervention, for example, the case of the General Labor Confederation. Although the labor associations and its Commission of 25 labor associations, made up of a similar number of agencies, have not enjoyed free exercise. For the first time since the military takeover in 1976, this Commission called for a 24-hour labor stoppage in April 1979. It did so to protest the Government’s economic and wage policy. Government authorities prohibited the stoppage and ordered that the leaders of the Commission be arrested. The same occurred again after the “Labor Day Protest” of May 1979.
2. By means of the procedures described above, the Government has also ignored the obligations accepted by Argentina as a member of the International Labor Organization, namely, of recognizing and maintaining certain protective measures and benefits for workers in general and a special group in particular. One point that deserves special mention because of its importance is Argentina’s disregard for ILO Conventions 87 and 98.
3. Several international organizations, among them, the Trade Union Committee of the International Labor Organization, have conducted investigations which have produced evidence of repression of the organized labor sector and their activities, and the promulgation of a number of provisions that weakened the broad system of protection for workers that existed in Argentina before the military takeover which violated the rights and benefits acquired under the Constitution and existing laws.
4. During the on-site observation, the Commission received testimony from Alfredo Bravo, Eduardo Jozami, Carlos Enrique Correa Gutiérrez, Diego Sebastián Ibáñez and Alberto Piccinnini, who are in detention centers. It also heard testimony from Lorenzo Miguel at his home, where he is under house arrest. All of them corroborated the reports received on the circumstances of their detention and the activities that each perform in the trade union or labor union to which they belong.
5. The Commission also received the officers of the labor organization known as the Conducción Única de Trabajadores Argentinos (CUTA), which in the very month of the visit, was founded by a merger of the National Workers Commission and the Commission of the 25 Labor Associations, for the furtherance of their labor union purposes. The Commission noted that the Argentine labor union movement still had its traditional strength, despite the restrictive measures imposed by the Government, and that the working class is greatly concerned about the economic policy adopted by the Government, which it believes, places the greatest sacrifices on its shoulders to correct the situation.
6. On November 7, 1979, the Argentine Government promulgated Law Nº 22.105 on “Worker Trade Union Associations” which established a new legal order in this area, and was opposed by the labor unions. The law regulates the following matters: the right to organize; organization and representation of associations; assemblies and congresses; rights and duties of labor associations of workers; labor associations with legal labor status; federations; assets; labor associations and trade unions rights; unfair practices; power of commitment, and general and transitory provisions.
1 Article 14 of the Argentine Constitution, as amended by the constitutional changes of October 24, 1957. The right of assembly has been regulated by Law 20.120 of January 25, 1973. The right of association, which pertains to the legal system of professional workers associations, is regulated by Law 20.615 of December 11, 1973.
2 Article XIV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man provides as follows: “Every person has the right to work, under proper conditions, and to follow his vocation freely, insofar as existing conditions of employment permit. Every person who works has the right to receive such standard of living suitable for himself and for his family.” Article XV reads: “Every person has the right to leisure time, to wholesome recreation, and to the opportunity for advantageous use of his free time to his spiritual and cultural and physical benefit.” Furthermore, Article XVI states: “Every person has the right to social security which will protect him from the consequences of unemployment, old age, and any disabilities arising from causes beyond his control that make it physical or mentally impossible for him to earn a living.” Articles XXI and XXII of the aforementioned Declaration contain the rights of assembly and association, respectively, which are discussed in the following chapter of this report.
3 Law 21.270 of March 24, 1976, formalized the military intervention of the General Labor Confederation. By this intervention, its funds, bank accounts and assets were blocked. Decree Nº 11 of March 24, 1976, formalized the military intervention of the General Economic Confederation, also blocking its funds, bank accounts and assets.
4 Acts setting the purposes and basic objectives for the National Reorganization Process,, paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7, of March 24, 1976.
5 Decrees Nos. 9 and 10 of March 24, 1976; Law 21.261 of March 24, 1976; Law Nº 21.322 of June 2, 1976; Law Nº 21.325 of June 2, 1976; Law Nº 21.400 of September 3, 1976. Other related laws are the following: Nº 21.263 which infringes on special labor rights; Nº 21.297 which violates the collective bargaining agreement; and Nos. 21.459 and 21.461 regulating the application of penalties for violation of prohibitions referring to the working class and to trade union organizations.
6 The Institutional Act of June 18, 1976, paragraphs a) and b) of Article 1 and Article 2.a.
7 Many union leaders and activists have been victimized by this situation: Professor Alfredo Bravo, Secretary General of the Confederation of Educational Workers disappeared, was later detained, even later subjected to restricted freedom, and after several months released; Lorenzo Miguel, the Secretary General of the Metal Workers Union and of the organization known as las 62 Organizaciones, was detained and later placed under, and still remains under, house arrest; Alberto Piccinnini, the Secretary General of the Metal Workers Union of Villa Constitución, has been detained since 1975 in Rawson prison; Eduardo Jozami, an attorney and Secretary General of the Federation of Journalists, has been detained since 1975, and is currently at Rawson, he is serving an 8 year sentence imposed by Military Court; Francisco Virgilio Gutiérrez, the Delegate General of the Metal Labor Association, has been detained since 1975; he was not given the right to exercise his option to leave the country if he wished, even though his case was dismissed by the federal Court of La Plata; Juan Remigio Arguello, Luis Francisco Iglesias and Jorge Varela, who were leaders in the bank employees sector, and Miguel Angel Barrionuevo and Héctor Candepadós, are all detained at Unit 9 in La Plata; Carlos Enrique Correa Gutiérrez, the former Secretary General of the Association of State Workers, was detained and placed at the disposition of the Executive (PEN) in June 1976, and later sentenced to seven years in Caseros prison; Diego Sebastián Ibañez, the Secretary General of the Petroleum Labor Association, was arrested in March of 1976 and since then has been at the Magdalena Military Prison; José Palacios, an executive member of the Department of Laymen of CELAM and a member of the Council of the World Christian Workers Movement in Brussels, Belgium, disappeared in Caseros, Buenos Aires Province, on December 11, 1975; Jorge di Pascuale, the Secretary General of the Association of Pharmacy Employees, disappeared in Buenos Aires on December 29, 1976; Roberto Repetto, an executive member of the Union of Civilian Personnel of the Nation (UPCN), disappeared in Buenos Aires on March 25, 1978; Oscar Smith, the Secretary General of the Light and Power Union of Buenos Aires, disappeared in Buenos Aires in February, 1977; Felipe Burgos, a director of the Sole Federation of Farm Workers Union (FUTSCA), disappeared in Salta in February, 1976; Nabor Gómez, director of the Bank Employees Association, Córdoba Section, disappeared in that city in 1975; Héctor Oberlin, director of the Córdoba City Workers Union, disappeared in that city in 1976; Angel Badarracco, director of the Córdoba City Workers Union, disappeared along with Oberlin, his brother-in-law, in 1976; Julio Guillan, the Secretary General of the Telephone Workers and Employees Union of Buenos Aires, Walter Medina, member of the Argentine Federation of Rural Workers, Jesús María Torres, Population and Cooperative leader of Córdoba, José Emilio Lumello, Secretary General of the Carbonated Beverages Workers Union of Córdoba, Antonio Guerrero, leader of the Argentine Association of Wireless Operators Workers of Tucumán and a former congressman, Héctor Pérez, Regional Delegate of the General Labor Confederation and Secretary General of the Foods Union of Tucumán, and Carlos Mendoza, Vice-Governor of Mendoza and a leader in metal works, have all been victimized.