Uruguay - Social development

Uruguay has frequently been referred to as South America's first welfare state. The social reform movement began under the leadership of José Batlle y Ordóñez in the early 1900s. Social legislation now provides for a day of rest in every week (plus Saturday afternoon), holidays with pay, minimum wages, annual cash and vacation bonuses, family allowances, compensation for unemployment or dismissal, workers' accident compensation, retirement pensions for rural and domestic workers, old age and disability pensions, and special consideration for working women and minors. The state also provides care for children and mothers, as well as for the blind, deaf, and mute. Free medical attention is available to the poor, as are low-cost living quarters for workers.

A dual social insurance program and private insurance system is in place. There is a separate system for bank employees, notaries, university graduates, members of the armed forces, and the police. All other employees and the self-employed are within the program. For pension coverage, employers withhold 15% of each employee's gross earnings and contribute 12.5% of payroll to the appropriate fund. Retirement is set at 60 for men and 56 for women. Maternity and sickness benefits are also provided and are funded by contributions of 3% of earnings by the employee and 5% of payroll from the employer. Maternity benefits are paid at 100% of earnings for up to 12 weeks. Work injury and unemployment insurance are available to all employees.

Women account for nearly half of the work force but tend to be concentrated in lower paying jobs. Nevertheless, many attend the national university and pursue professional careers. The military academies are now including women. Although the law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, few claims are filed because it is not viewed as a problem. Spousal abuse is a serious social problem which is receiving greater attention by nongovernmental organizations. The number of reported cases has increased dramatically, reflecting a greater willingness by women to confront the problem.

Black minorities, accounting for 6% of the population, are severely underrepresented in politics and in the professions. They face considerable discrimination in education and employment. Occasional reports of the use of excessive force by police are reported each year, and judicial delays can result in lengthy pretrial detention. Human rights organizations operate freely in Uruguay.

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