Chile court tosses key part of president’s labor reform law

April 29, 2016

A top court ruled on Wednesday that key provisions of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s landmark labor reform were unconstitutional, invalidating parts of the legislation just weeks before it was due to take effect.

The reform, aimed at strengthening organized labor in the South American country, was passed by the Senate in March after a bruising battle that opened divisions within the governing Nueva Mayoria coalition.

In a last-ditch attempt to derail it, conservative lawmakers had filed a motion against some aspects of the bill in Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal.

In a 6-4 decision, the Tribunal rejected as unconstitutional a provision that said companies could only negotiate with legally designated unions during collective wage talks. It also rejected part of a measure that prohibited companies from extending benefits resulting from bargaining agreements to non-unionized employees.

The full details of the court’s ruling were not yet available.

“This is not good news for the freedom of unions and for unionized workers,” government spokesman Marcelo Diaz said from the Moneda presidential palace.

“And this is also bad news for the reputation of the country because we can not adhere to the international standards to which we are bound.”

Labor Minister Ximena Rincon said the government would await the entire text of the decision before deciding on next steps, but warned the president could veto the parts of the bill in dispute, sending them back to Congress for changes.

Rincon also criticized opposition lawmakers for resorting to the courts to defeat the bill.

The opposition rejected the government’s criticism.

“For more than a year and a half we told the government, in all manner of ways, that their intention of giving unions a monopoly and obligating workers to join a union in order to get the benefits (that are negotiated) was unjust and unconstitutional,” said opposition Senator Andres Allamand.

The decision could heap pressure on the already unpopular Bachelet at a time when she is trying to promote additional reforms.

Chileans took to social media to say they were planning demonstrations on International Workers’ Day on May 1 to protest the court’s decision.