Protecting jobs is not protecting workers

11, September

The pandemic shows on the surface retrograde ideas that only create more exclusion, informality and unemployment. ...

The pandemic shows on the surface retrograde ideas that only create more exclusion, informality and unemployment. The vaccine for this is already available.

By Martin Padulla for staffingamericalatina


While we are all waiting for the vaccine that will get us out of the pandemic, some countries in the region seem determined to ignore the fact that there is a vaccine for rigid labor markets that are not capable of generating jobs.

Some sectors of politics and the trade union world talk about jobs being threatened when in reality they are jobs that have had a death certificate for a long time and are artificially maintained through mechanisms that only generate backwardness and decadence.

This old look that conceives work in only one way (permanent, full time contract) has been left naked during these five months in which the World has changed. During this period it has been evident that this type of work is not the majority, that there are various forms of work that are often related to informality because of this myopia of policy makers.

Is it possible to reconcile diverse forms of work with social rights? Is it possible to seriously include?

It is definitely possible with a change of mindset, introducing new categories. As long as it can be understood that there is no longer a single solution for a diverse environment and that freedom is the essential value that each individual has to choose how to develop their working life, it will be very possible. It requires a broader view. Social innovation.

Jan Tirole, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2014 already warned about how quickly jobs were changing. Working as a doctor or a professor will be extremely different in a decade, this requires preparation and the search for solutions, said the French economist. Tirole also argued that there are good and bad solutions. The bad one is trying to protect jobs, the good one is protecting workers. His thesis was based on the following concept: since jobs are going to change in the future, it is necessary to protect workers by giving them social security and training, permanent training to learn new skills. 

The pandemic accelerated and much of the scenario. It made evident something that was already evident only in smaller circles such as academics involved in applied research.

Latin America needs to create a different scheme of social protection than the one conceived two generations ago for a simple reason: the path in individuals’ careers is already completely different. In a scenario that prioritizes formality, a labor career today should begin with a temporary or casual job, could continue with an indefinite contract, then could have employment and unemployment intervals, training to acquire new skills and increase employability, part time jobs, independent or freelance work, projects through a platform or other modalities that adjust to the needs according to the stage of life and the circumstances surrounding it.

It is clear that the portability of these social rights is key and that they must focus on the worker and not on employment. They must accompany him on that pixelated path that shapes the changing world of work in the 21st century.

That set of rights should include job training, acquisition of demand-driven skills. It is a winding road that will require all of us to learn to unlearn in order to relearn. The backpack must be able to be loaded or made lighter as the needs are met along the way

The only stable thing should be access to social protection schemes by workers. This will require a rethinking of our labor laws and tax systems which should focus on them and not on the interests of the political class.

It is interesting to note that for the traditional employment viewpoint, new players are appearing who can contribute a lot to this scheme. The private employment services sector in Europe provides supplementary pension funds, bipartite training funds to facilitate long life learning, social funds to guarantee access to credit, etc. This is undoubtedly the most organized and representative sector, made up of companies that have a global scale. How long will it take for platforms that also have a global scale to organize themselves? Probably not long and this will enrich the social dialogue. It is necessary to rebuild a broader social protection system for the various forms of work, including those that do not involve a typical employment relationship.

Flexibility with security. Facilities for hiring and essential rights for the worker. The opposite of the rigidity that discourages job creation. It is only a matter of making a correct reading of reality and implementing solutions that have already given results in other latitudes. Of course, to do this we must give up privileges, break the status quo, put the citizen in the center of the scene, have greatness and prioritize the common good. 

Will it be much? Perhaps this is the most important question for the future of Latin America.

About Martin Padulla

Founder and Managing Director of staffingamericalatina. Martin Padulla is Sociologist (USAL), MBA (UCA) and labour markets expert. He published “Flexible Work in South America” and “Regulatory framework for private employment agencies in Latin America” two books about the new realities of work in Latin America. He is working on the project #FOWiberoamerica.

Follow Martín Padulla on Twitter: @MartinPadulla