Uruguay - Labor

The labor force numbered 1.2 million in 2001. In that year, services accounted for 70% of the workforce, industry 16%, and agriculture 14%. The unemployment rate rose from 8.94% in 1991 to 15.2% in 2001.

In 1943, industrial wage boards with seven members (three for the government, two for the employers, and two for the employees) were established to fix minimum wages and settle wage disputes. Because the wage boards (consejos de salarios) were slow in reaching decisions, the Uruguayan labor force tended to use the strike as a first resort to force the initiation of negotiations. Since 1968, wages and prices have been controlled by the Price and Wage Commission. In July 1973, the National Workers' Convention, which claimed 400,000 members, was declared illegal. Laws enacted in August 1974 restricted trade-union membership to "free and nonpolitical" trade unions. Political activity by union officials was banned, as were strikes in the public sector, health, and commerce. Labor conditions returned to pre-1973 conditions with the 1985 government changeover. The sudden release of years of frustration triggered some 250 strikes in the ensuing year. Uruguay's sole labor confederation is the Inter-Union Workers Assembly-National Federation of Workers (PIT-CNT). In 2002, over 80% of the public sector workforce was unionized, with the number of union members in private industry at around 5%.

The eight-hour day and 48-hour week were instituted in 1915 and remained the standard in 2002. The law provides for one day of rest after every six days of work and grants holidays with pay, plus an annual vacation bonus. The minimum wage was $80 per month in 2002, but it functions in practice as an index for calculating wage rates rather than a measure of a minimum subsistence wage. Most workers earn more than this minimum. The minimum working age is 15, and it is generally enforced although the number of children working in the informal economy is increasing.

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