The election of Hipólito Yrigoyen as president of Argentina in 1916 initiated a series of profound changes in the nation's social structure. The Radical-controlled legislature enacted a series of economic and social measures, including a measure to establish retirement funds. Despite differences between Radical leadership and labor, limited social welfare measures were continued until 1930, when Yrigoyen was expelled from office. The Conservative regime in power for the next 13 years took little cognizance of demands for social benefits.
The next major advance in the creation of social and economic benefits was made during the government of Juan Perón, who assumed power in 1946. The 44-hour workweek that had been enacted in 1933 was for the first time put into effect. New provisions established salary increases, paid holidays, sick leave, job tenure, and many other benefits. By 1945, a National Social Security Institute administered social insurance programs and the pension system. In the early 1950s, these measures continued and were extended also to the rural sector. The failure of the Argentine welfare system to live up to Perón's promises helped to bring about his overthrow in 1955. During the 1960s, the pension funds were often diverted for other purposes, and there was a general breakdown in the system. By 1970, many of the persons eligible for welfare payments received none at all, and the secretary of social welfare under the Levingston administration, charged former government authorities with misappropriating millions of pesos.
Most of the social legislation enacted during the Perón years has remained on the statute books. The pension laws, updated in 1993, mandates that workers pay 11% of their wages into a pension fund, and this amount was supplemented by an 16% contribution from the employer. Employees also now have the option of choosing a private pension. Unemployment benefits were introduced for construction workers in 1967 and were expanded to include all employed persons in 1991. Contributions are 1% of earnings of the employed, with an additional 1.5% paid by the employer. Sickness benefits and up to 90 days of paid maternity leave are also provided, funded by 3% of employee earnings and 6% of employer payroll. Both public and private sector employees are covered by workers' compensation, which is being expanded to cover domestic workers and others previously excluded from the system. There is also a prenatal allowance, and grants for marriage, birth, and adoption.
Although guaranteed equality under the Constitution, women are fighting for equal advancement and pay in the labor force. Despite the government's efforts, discrimination against women in the workplace and sexual harassment continue to be important social problems. Although prohibited by law, women earn less than men for the same work. Domestic abuse and violence against women are recognized as serious social problems. A battered women's shelter and 24-hour hotline are operated by the city of Buenos Aires.
The National Council on Children and Families is working to develop child protection programs and legislation. Handicapped access to public places is specified by law aimed at eliminating barriers to the disabled, and a constitutional amendment recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of Argentina's indigenous people. Reports of torture and brutality by police persist.