Several countries in Latin America have seen their Congress/Assembly launch a number of draft bills to change their work legislation. These bills tackle common issues in the region such as unions, outsourcing, gender-equal pay, disability inclusion in the workplace, auditing and maternity and paternity leaves.

Union regulation aims at changing the current mandatory worker contribution to the union and allowing direct negotiations between employer and employee without union intervention. The Brazilian senate pronounced on the matter last week. Ending mandatory collective agreements between unions and employers is a wedge issue, since it would allow direct negotiation between employer and employee. These agreements will change the current legislation as regards changing days off, extending work hours in unhealthy work environments and splitting the workers’ holiday period, as well as removing mandatory worker contribution to the union. Opposition senator Gleisi Hoffman (Labor Party) deems the Senate unable to vote on such an important project under the current political crisis in the country.

Outsourcing refers to the flexibilizing conditions of labor which allows companies to outsource the work force. The intended regulation aims at matching the conditions of temporary and permanent employees; it was most recently seen in the Brazilian labor reform draft, which strengthens collective agreements and the Outsourcing Law.

Regulating disability inclusion in the workplace aims at establishing disability quotas in companies according to the number of employees. The Chilean Senate has just passed a 1% disability inclusion law in the public and private sectors, which establishes minimum wage for disabled workers and pay-raises according to the tasks performed that match those of non-disabled employees.

Auditing regulation aims at creating administrative auditing courts in the work place that allow inspections to be carried out without previous notice in order to audit accounting, contracts and payments.

There is also a tendency to regulate gender-related issues, especially as regards maternity and paternity leaves and equal-pay. Changes in such regulations include extending maternity-leave periods, creating paternity leaves and forcing companies to set up nursing rooms for mothers to breastfeed, pump and store breastmilk. Equal pay changes aim at establishing equal pay for equal work.

Changes in labor legislation, and gender equality legislation in particular, are being debated in 8 of 13 countries in the region, including Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. Chile is pushing an equal pay for equal work law which classifies different cases of discrimination in terms of the gender pay gap. Such debates are also ongoing in Peru, where Congress is considering making amendments to Law n°26772 on Discrimination Acts in order to include equal pay for equal work articles.

Guatemala has introduced a draft bill to extend the maternity-leave period to 30 days before and 70 days after delivery with full compensation. Unused leave days before delivery will be added to the post-delivery leave period. Mothers will also be allowed an hour of breastfeeding twice a day in a private space set up by the company for a three-month period after returning to work. Similar debates are also ongoing in Panama, where a draft bill creating paternity leaves in the private sector has been endorsed by Congress and awaits final passing by the Executive Branch. The initiative includes a 5-working-day leave with full compensation for employees from the day of birth. Employees should notify their employer or institution and produce a certificate with the estimated due date approximately a week before delivery. Supporters of the bill mention the existence of paternity leaves in the public and private sectors in the region: 8 days in Colombia, 3 days in Bolivia and Paraguay, 13 days in Uruguay and even longer in Ecuador.

Mexico is currently debating an amendment to the Law of Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence in order to classify gender inequalities in the workplace, such as denied access to promotions, as a form of violence. The Lower House has endorsed two articles to amend the current labor legislation on maternity and breastfeeding laws and paternity leaves. The first initiative amends article 170 of the Federal Labor Law to allow mothers the decision to use 5 of the 6-week maternity leave after delivery (the current legislation allows for 4-weeks to be used after delivery) and specifies notification and salary during the breastfeeding period. As regards paternity leaves, amendments made to Article 132  section XXVII b of the Federal Labor Law specify 5 days of paternity leave “as from the day of birth, or on finalizing the adoption process once the minor is placed under the care of adoptive parents.” Both draft bills will be passed on to the Upper House for debate.

Uruguay and Paraguay take the lead as regards breastfeeding labor regulations. Last May 9th, the Public Health Commission in the Uruguayan Senate passed the draft bill on Breastfeeding Spaces which allows women to breastfeed, pump and store breastmilk in the workplace in order to continue the breastfeeding period, as well as guarantee privacy, safety, hygiene and easy access to breastfeeding for new mothers. Public or private establishments with over 20 female students/workers or over 50 students/workers of any gender are required to set up Breastfeeding Spaces. The bill also regulates the conditions and deadlines for the establishment of such spaces and penalties from the Ministry of Public Health in case of failure to comply with the regulations. Paraguay also debated and passed a request from the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security to assess the enforcement of Law no. 5.508, Article 10 on Protection and Promotion of Maternity and Support of Breastfeeding of Women in the Workplace, The request also sets out to assess designs and control strategies for the full enforcement of the law. The project was presented by Rocío Casco, representative of socialist opposition party PMAS and president of the Commission on Equality and Gender. The initiative urges the Executive Branch to pass the Regulatory Decree for Law no. 5.508 on Protection and Promotion of Maternity and Support of Breastfeeding, which has been on hold for approval since the passing of Law no. 5.508 in 2015 and is essential to ensure its full enforcement.