Venezuela's new labour law and the presidential elections

This was the speech by Yaruma Rodriguez, cultural attaché of the Venezuelan embassy in the UK, to the Hands Off Venezuela Conference 2013

Venezuela’s current Labour Law came into force on the 7th of May 2012 and it is one of the most progressive and far-reaching laws of its kind in the world today. The drafting of the law was a deeply democratic process which involved thousands of regional forums and workshops which gave all sectors of Venezuelan society a chance to shape the law through their ideas and contributions.

The new law replaced the previous labour law which was passed in 1997 by former right-wing President Rafael Caldera under intense pressure from the IMF and which had a devastating effect on workers’ rights in Venezuela. The new law also builds on the rights established in the 1999 Constitution which was drafted following the election of President Chavez. Before President Chavez’s election in 1998 trade union membership figures stood at 11%. Now, over 28% of the workforce is unionised.

Here are some of the main achievements for of the law:

  • The minimum wage will be increased by 45%. This came into effect on the 1st of May this year.
  • The maximum working week has been capped at 40 hours with workers having the right to two consecutive days of rest per week.
  • Gender equality has been guaranteed. Employers are responsible for encouraging and promoting the equal participation of women in managerial and director level roles.
  • Maternity leave has been extended from 12 to 20 weeks. Mothers are also given job security from the start of pregnancy until two years after the birth.
  • The rights of disabled workers have been strengthened. Now employers must have a 5% disabled workforce.

President Maduro has also recently announced a series of government programmes that will further improve workers’ lives:

The Great Worker’s Housing Mission will provide subsidised social housing for working families. Workers in need of homes are encouraged to organise themselves into cooperatives so that the government can factor this into their planning and build the necessary homes.

Mission Inside the Neighbourhood for Workers will provide ensure that workers have access to a doctor and other medical facilities at their place of work.

Mission Mercal for the Workers will deliver subsidised food directly to the workplace to ensure the nutrition of workers and their families.

These are just some of the fantastic achievements that would have been lost had Capriles won the election. Henrique Capriles is the latest in a long line of leaders from the Venezuelan far right who have given capitalism a free rein at the expense of workers’ rights. During the election campaign, Capriles presented himself as a progressive candidate who would continue with the many government social programmes set up under Chavez. But behind closed doors he was making deals to privatise Venezuela’s key industries and resume relations with the IMF. Luckily, Venezuelan voters were not fooled by Capriles. He is well known for his ultra-conservative background, strong connections in the business world and his support for the 2002 coup. Just because an election candidate says they are progressive, it doesn’t mean that it is true. Venezuelans learned this the hard way after former right-wing presidents Carlos Andres Perez and Raphael Caldera in the 1980s and 1990s both campaigned on progressive platforms only to abandon their election pledges and defraud the Venezuelan people as soon as they took power.

Having lost the recent election, the Venezuelan right-wing opposition have unleashed a wave of violence in an attempt to destabilise the country and overturn the election result. Capriles recklessly called on his followers to “discharge their anger on the streets” which led to the deaths of nine Maduro supporters and many more injured.

There is absolutely no truth to Capriles’s claim that the election was fraudulent. He simply wants to throw the country into chaos. On the contrary, the Venezuelan electoral system has been described by the former US president and nobel prize winner Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world” and “the most technologically advanced”.

The electoral system in Venezuela is so robust and transparent that it is impossible to rig. Firstly, citizens voting in Venezuela are identified by their fingerprint. The electronic voting machines are activated only when the fingerprint corresponds to the voter’s ID number in the database. This prevents fraudulent behaviour such as identity theft.

The voter then registers their vote electronically and the machine issues them with a paper receipt so that they can verify that their vote has been registered correctly before placing it in a ballot box. The voter’s finger is then stained with indelible ink to prevent them from voting again. Since there are two records of every vote (machine and paper ballot), it is virtually impossible to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match. A total of 17 audits of the voting system take place both during and after the vote to ensure that the electronic and paper ballots match. Then when voting has closed, 54% of the votes are randomly selected and audited to ensure the validity result. It is also worth mentioning that the computer system was tested by opposition engineers prior to voting and they concluded that all systems were functioning correctly.

It is also important to stress that the voting process takes place with the presence of witnesses from all parties. Once the counting of the votes has taken place at each polling station in full view of the witnesses, the witnesses sign off the record of totalised votes before it is submitted to the National Electoral Council. I have also spoken to many international electoral observers who also witnessed the voting and the counting of the votes and all have attested to the fairness, transparency and efficiency of the vote. Many British election observers also made a point of asking opposition witnesses whether they had any concerns over the voting and not one single problem was reported.

After days of violence the government finally conceded to Capriles’s demand for a full recount. But Capriles then rejected the recount and refused to participate. He then demanded a new election. This shows that Capriles claims are baseless and nothing more than a cynical attempt to sabotage a democratically elected government and disregard the will of the Venezuelan people. The vast majority of countries around the world, with the notable exception of the US, have now recognised the validity of the election result.

The reality is that Venezuela has a president who is more committed than ever to continuing on a progressive path of improving the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. As a former bus driver and trade union leader, President Maduro fully embraces the trade union movement and encourages further unionisation to protect these gains.

As Venezuela enters this new stage in its democracy, we very much appreciate your solidarity as we continue the fight for social justice in the face of threats from the right-wing opposition. I would also like to applaud the work Hands off Venezuela is undertaking, you can count on Venezuela’s full support.

Thank you once again for your solidarity and for welcoming me to this meeting.

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