Democrat spotlights Peru labor complaint

Democrat spotlights Peru labor complaint
© Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday welcomed a complaint against Peru’s government for alleged labor violations ahead of what could be the final round of talks on a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade deal.

Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan said that the complaint shines the light on workers rights issues and that the United States must ensure that labor protections in all Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries, including Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia and Peru.

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“It is disconcerting that there's been a failure to address this long-standing problem,” said Levin, who helped broker the U.S-Peru trade agreement in 2009.

Peru is part of the TPP agreement that could reach completion next week despite a host of outstanding issues.

The complaint filed Thursday by the International Labor Rights Forum and Peruvian labor unions says that the government is using a special export law to skirt worker rights set out in the U.S.-Peru pact.

“Garment and textile employers have taken advantage of the special law by systematically declining to renew the contracts of thousands of workers who joined unions in an effort to improve wages and working conditions,” the groups wrote in a statement.

That export law exempts employers from parts of the general labor code, allowing them to hire most of their workforce for an unlimited period on a series of renewable, temporary contracts, some as short as 15 days.

The AFL-CIO, which sent a letter of support for the complaint to the Labor Department, said it “considers this to be an important opportunity for the United States to bring the government of Peru into compliance with its existing obligations” under the trade deal “before further cementing ties under the TPP,” according to a blog post by Brian Finnegan, global workers rights coordinator at the labor union.