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lunes, mayo 23, 2005

Gabriela Martínez on the feminization of poverty in Venezuela

(Apparently this didn't post properly the first time, and most of the article was cut off. Sorry about that! Should be fixed now. --bugs.)

María Gabriela Martínez is part of the investigative team at Provea, the Venezuelan Program for Human Rights Education and Action (Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos). Provea, a leading human rights organization established in 1988, has as its mission to defend and promote Venezuelans’ economic, social, and cultural rights. Its annual report, which includes information and statistics on many aspects of Venezuelan society, is available (in Spanish) at http://www.derechos.org.ve.

Gabriela Martínez’s work focuses on labor and workers’ rights, especially issues affecting working women.

Near the end of the interview she gets into legal terminology. I’ve translated it as best I can, but given that I’m not at all familiar with the Venezuelan legal system (and not all that familiar with legal jargon in English either), take the translations with a large grain of salt. As always, all errors in transcription, translation, spelling and/or grammar are my own.


María Gabriela Martínez
April 29, 2005

LA: First, if you could tell me a little about Provea, and your work within Provea?

[see above]

GM: Tendencies of the Venezuelan labor market . . . As an approximation, we have unemployment rates between 13 and 17% in recent years. There’s been an increase in the amount of unemployment. By gender, women in recent years have tended to see an increase in unemployment.

Yet neither has unemployment been low [in previous periods]. It was low in the 1970s. In the ‘80s and ‘90s unemployment rose. We reached an unemployment level of 20% during 2003, but not all year. The highest increase in unemployment was in February 2003, which was also [produced] by the general strike. This [strike] has greatly affected the economy, [impacting] unemployment levels throughout 2003.

At any rate, regarding unemployment, we had a rate [last year] that was high, but not that high. We also have the fact that unemployment among women is always higher than unemployment among men.

Half of women work outside the home, and [it is these who are included] in the unemployment index for women. There are women who stay at home, who don’t go out to look for work, who are on the order of 50%. Half of all women of an age and in a position to work do not seek work. Of the other half that do look for work, consistently between 17 and 20% are unemployed. Thus we have little participation by women in the labor market, if one adds the women who don’t seek work to those who can’t find work. Three out of every ten women are in the labor market.

Those older than 15 years -- which is the age in which it’s desirable – are counted, are included in the statistics. With child labor, statistics on child labor aren’t processed officially; since it’s prohibited, it’s not accounted for. And it does exist.

Then we have the problem of informal employment, which is serious, because within it is hidden underemployment. It’s not just street vendors; in reality, informal employment is very broad. The biggest problem with informal employment is that it includes half of the working population. So five out of every ten people in the economically active population, of the people that are working, half work in the informal sector. The other half work in the formal sector. There are very few people, in reality, working in the formal sector, when we look at the numbers.

The informal sector is characterized by pay below the minimum wage, by not belonging to, not paying into Social Security, not benefiting from any type of social security. And it’s also characterized by the fact that here participate the greater part of the women that have jobs.

So when one starts to look at all this, along these lines, [one sees] that women are quite marginalized in the labor market. But on the other hand, you have that the informal economy doesn’t offer benefits for involuntary loss of work [unemployment benefits], retirement or old-age pensions, or disability, for example. So there is an extensive lack of legal protection. This is, unfortunately, taking into account that half or more than half – unofficial statistics say than more than half of all workers work in the informal sector. So we have a hug amount of underemployment.

And there’s another characteristic of the informal sector which is that it’s not unionized. Here in Venezuela, one can create unions in workplaces of more than 20 workers. This makes it so that in the informal sector, in general, people who are self-employed or employed under the table – due to this, they have very low levels of unionization. So this is another characteristic.

Then we combine this with the issue of poverty. And that has to do with – here we have what’s known as the monthly minimum salary. It’s not per hour [like the U.S. minimum wage], but monthly. The minimum monthly salary is now scarcely enough to buy food.

Here we have two indicators which are the standard food basket, that is, the food which a family of five needs in one month, and the standard basic basket, that is, the costs for a family of five including not just food but housing, health, etc. The minimum salary doesn’t cover – or didn’t cover – now it is just at the level of the basic food basket, but not [enough] for the [remaining] costs.

LA: And this is with the increase on May 1st?

GM: Beginning tomorrow, there will be an increase that does slightly surpass, by about 20 dollars, the basic food basket. But it is an advance, because historically it has never reached that level.

The biggest problem that we have, with this unemployment and underemployment, is that the majority of people don’t earn the minimum salary. They earn less that the minimum salary.

LA: Because they’re in the informal sector?

GM: Exactly. Thus they are below the line.

Mixing underemployment with all of this: as of the end of last year, more specifically, the average Venezuelan family has more than four members – well, 4.6, because it’s an average, although there cannot really be a part of a person. But basically, you have 4.6 members per family, with one working.

Because of this, poverty levels are very high. It turns out that more than half of Venezuelan households receive incomes below the minimum salary. This is why it’s not that significant that the minimum salary is rising. Because increasing the minimum salary principally benefits public sector employees and people receiving social security pensions, which would be seniors, older adults, the disabled, etc. Nevertheless, there is always a structural problem, which is that the people who make up the informal sector, which as I said is immense, a sector encompassing nearly the majority of Venezuelan workers.

This is what leads to the feminization of poverty. Because women, who are more likely to be in the informal sector, who are more likely to have less work, etc., many of them are single mothers, heads of households in single-parent families. Thus there is a tendency towards the reproduction of poverty.

Then there are the statistics by age. By age, we have that the youngest people have the hardest time finding work. The entry-level group, between ages 15 and 24, is where we find the highest levels of unemployment. What does this mean? Well, there are barriers to finding your first job. And there is an absence of public policies directed at obtaining a first job, jobs for youth. This is a problem.

After one has entered the labor market, it is, of course, easier to maintain oneself. As age increases, unemployment rates fall greatly. Clearly, many people also drop out of the economically active population, right? But along general lines, there is a bottleneck. There is a barrier for youth trying to find their first job.

By educational level, evidently the better-prepared workers with higher educational levels present lower unemployment rates. It appears that gender discrimination also declines with increasing years of education.

LA: So there’s more discrimination against women who don’t have much education.

GM: Exactly.

LA: You’ve been telling me about the situation of workers and poor people. How has this situation changed over the past decade?

GM: The last decade is characterized by more participation by the population. But it also evidences a deterioration – it hasn’t changed for the better. The structural adjustment policies of the 1990s had a good deal of negative consequences for society. During the ‘90s there was a decrease in employment levels, as I told you, and also in the real salary – the capacity, the acquisitive power of Venezuelans. There has been a series of currency devaluations that has also contributed to the diminishing real salary for workers.

Apart from this, there has been an absence of public policies to encourage job creation.

We’ve had increased flexibilization of labor laws. The reform of the Organic Labor Law in 1990 created a very unfavorable law for workers. Here we have the principle of seniority; there are certain benefits a worker receives upon losing a job. This flexibilizing labor reform did not translate into more jobs, nor did it translate into higher salaries, which was what they were peddling. That is, the reform made it cheaper to fire a worker, but in consequence, there were going to be more jobs and higher salaries, because there wouldn’t be associated labor costs.

The reality was that salaries didn’t rise substantially, and unemployment, on the contrary, has continued to rise. Equally, in 1990 the informal economy didn’t rise above 30% [of all workers]. There has been accelerated growth. As a consequence of flexibilization, there has been accelerated growth of the informal sector. So, I’ll tell you, the balance of the last ten or 20 years, the years of structural adjustment policies and related legislative changes, was not positive for workers.

On the other hand, there has also been an absence of public policies to encourage job creation in the formal sector. Informal employment has continued on its ascending path, and formal employment has been falling significantly.

Now there has been, in recent years, a policy of encouraging cooperatives and employment in small businesses. Nevertheless, my personal perception is that this hasn’t sufficiently benefited the workers. Because the economic indexes, the employment rates – the number of employers has not grown. Unemployment has not fallen significantly. It has fallen very little. The latest figures show that more than half of the Venezuelan population is earning less than the minimum salary. They are surviving on less than a minimum salary. This makes you realize that more than half, approximately 51%, we’re saying that they don’t have the money to go to the supermarket to buy food. This has not been improving.

And on the other hand, another criticism of this policy refers in particular to – it’s in the microenterprise sector where, it is verified, one finds the greatest gender differences. If the majority of poverty’s impacts fall upon women, this employment policy is not benefiting women. Seventy-five percent of the members of cooperatives and of small businesses are men. And only 25% of all people who are in cooperatives are women. So this model is fostering exclusion of women. it’s in the cooperative sector where one finds the greatest disparity of participation by gender. In the public sector (formal employment) is where there is the greatest gender equality. We’re talking about 49% men and 51% women. In the formal sector.

LA: But do women earn the same salaries [as men] in the public sector?

GM: In the public sector, yes. And this [has to do with] the union movement -- in the public sector where there is greater union representation, where the workers are more represented by unions. This is evidence that the unions, at least on the issue of gender, whether consciously or unconsciously, have had concrete effects.

In the private sector, where the level of unionization is lower, disparities by gender are greater than in the public sector. And in the cooperative sector of microenterprises, where there is no unionization, since they are very small businesses where the law does not permit the creation of unions, is where women have insufficient participation.

Thus, there’s the problem of how to make women into employers, business owners, entrepreneurs, etc. I think that on this theme we are progressing a little. Nevertheless, I think it’s too soon to make a definitive judgment concerning what this will do. Why? Because there must be a process of seeing how it goes – if this will be made permanent over time, this is another doubt we have. And on the other hand, certainly women will continue to become active, to participate in small businesses, in small enterprises.

Equally, another thing remains – the difference under the law in the minimum wage; businesses with fewer than twenty employees have a lower salary and are excluded from certain labor benefits, including food vouchers, for example, and childcare benefits. So the concern is, if you try to encourage women to work in small businesses or cooperatives where there isn’t going to be childcare, where there aren’t going to be food vouchers, etc., you’re not giving then the tools that would permit a women who’s the mother of a family to be able to combine her work with her household. With the domestic work that obviously is work which here, and in Latin American society in general, the role of domestic work, what’s called the double shift, falls upon the woman. It falls principally on the woman. The costs of reproduction, of having children, of caring for the children, of caring for the sick, of doing the housework, falls principally upon the woman.

So, jobs lacking protections for women discourage them from looking for work and from participating. For this reason, a policy that focuses on women going into the sector in which they don’t have all their protections – neither is this good for women.

Nevertheless, this has been the focus lately of employment plans. Cooperatives and microenterprise. [This is the goal] of the Women’s Bank. For example, there’s the Law of Equal Opportunities for Women, which was passed subsequent to the plan of action of Beijing, but which has not translated into improved public policy. After this, it was in 1998 – in 1998 came the law of Equal Opportunities for Women.

And, I’ll tell you, the only organization that has public policies directed at women is the Women’s Bank, which promotes microcredit for microenterprises, which have the characteristics I mentioned; they have a lower minimum salary and don’t provide the benefits of food vouchers or childcare. So microenterprise is not so good for women. And in fact, in addition to the Women’s Bank there’s the People’s Bank, and another bank, and other institutes that provide credit to the people which have had greater success among men. For this reason, in the cooperative and microenterprise sector, women’s participation – I think it has to do with this, that they’re not good jobs for women.

LA: What would be a better policy for working women?

GM: I think something that at minimum, [does away with] having fewer benefits depending on the size of the business. This has to do with the minimum benefits; food benefits, childcare benefits, need to exist in all sizes of businesses. Because the reality is that women, who are half the population, even though they participate less in the labor market – there needs to be a way in which a women can do the work of her house and also do her work outside the home. Because the reality is that the woman – many times the mother is the only one in her family, her and her children. So to discriminate, to eliminate benefits that are directly aimed at women and families, is not very good.

On the other hand, we need to create incentives for equality of opportunity in all spheres. What’s needed is not to feminize certain sectors of the labor market, but to try to create gender equality in all. In private industry, in public industry, in small businesses, midsized businesses, large companies. Focusing solely on one point, in one ambit, means that the rest of the women that work in other areas aren’t benefiting.

Then there is the huge issue of the informal sector, which I believe is responsible for the highest levels of poverty and inequality. We need to try to formalize this relationship, making it so that Social Security is obligatory for everyone. Create a registry of informal workers and make sure that they pay into it.

This is a difficult issue. Because the workers don’t contribute because they say Social Security doesn’t work. And since they’re not obliged by the employer, since sometimes they don’t have employers, they don’t contribute. But people grow old. And when they grow old, they need some protection. So if the social security system isn’t improved for everyone, not excluding the informal sector, it isn’t doing anything. This is a problem. The people will grow old, they won’t have jobs when they’re older, and this will impoverish their children.

So this needs to be attacked from various angles. First, social security. Second, apply plans of employment. I’m not a specialist on job creation, but we need to generate formal employment. And we need to generate decent employment, as the ILO puts it. Perhaps it can be through small businesses. Small businesses hire a lot of people, that’s a fact. Because, well, because they have less technology. But these small businesses must have acceptable working conditions. It cannot take place at the cost of losing benefits for workers.

LA: And in the past, did businesses of all sizes have to pay benefits? Has there been a change?

GM: No. This discrimination between businesses has been practically historical.

Yet in reality, if you look, the small business sector hasn’t grown significantly due to the fact that they pay lower wages, fewer benefits, that the workers contribute less in paycheck deductions. There needs to be a study – I would try to confirm – that the success or failure of a small business is not primarily due to the benefits that it has to pay. There are many factors.

Here there is an organization of businesses called Fedeindustria that brings together small and midsized enterprises. They performed a survey of their members concerning the reasons for which they aren’t growing, or are having difficulties. And in reality, labor factors are always nearly in last place. First is always the issue of access to credit, that banks won’t give them credit, and that customs has too much red tape and therefore they don’t export. We need to look at this. Business owners, of course, at the moment when an increase is planned, say, “No! We won’t be able to pay.” But when they’re evaluating what damages them the most, the cost of labor is nearly in last place.

And there’s another thing that the employers always minimize, which is the issue of finding qualified labor. it would appear that for employers, this is not the problem. There are other problems that don’t depend on the workers and are more urgent. For example, the whole issue of getting permissions, of fulfilling public administrative requirements. They always mention this as a relevant element. Now, with the money-exchange controls for businesses, they don’t have dollars. They always mention this as another. The issue of access to credit, they also always mention as another problem that’s more important than the cost of salaries. So, it doesn’t appear to be the case that in fact the policy of lower salaries for people who work in smaller companies – it hasn’t led to the growth of these companies.

What needs to be done at the institutional level – I think that we also need to fortify participation, democratization of the labor unions. So that the unions truly represent the workers’ interests. Right now there is extensive polarization of the labor movement. And I see this as not benefiting the workers. In the public sector, and – there are many frictions.
LA: Yes, that was my next question, about the situation of labor unions—

GM: It’s not exactly my area of research. But one does note, evidently, a polarization. The state, for its part, has excluded the opposition [unions] from labor-related negotiations. Since 1999, the minimum salary has continued to be set in a unilateral manner, without participation by either the opposition unions or the pro-government unions. So there has been something of an ignorance of the role of the workers. It’s been unilateral.

There have been salary increases that I’m sure that even with union participation would have occurred the same way. But there’s a certain contempt of negotiation with unions. There, one side talks about promotion of parallel unionism, of parallel pro-government unions, this is what one side says. The other side says, “No, we’re not parallel, we are new unions, with our own members, with a different political tendency.” I really don’t know . . . still receiving cases, complaints, etc., that – when union activity designates a union that’s anti-government, like CTV or FEDEUNEP, the judicial processes never give the decision to the union. When they’re pro-government, there’s a better relationship, better treatment by the judicial branch. Nevertheless, this problem is so radicalized that there are always, in public organizations, aspects of the government such as ministries, etc., where there are opposition unions, there’s a fight. In municipalities, there’s a lack of respect. There there’s always been anti-union sentiment. But in the municipalities that are governed by the opposition, the union, if it’s pro-government, it’s the same, exactly the same fight, but on the other side. So there’s a – the polarization’s not – It’s doing a lot of damage, in truth.

There’s an issue of who are the most representative unions. Because there’s been interference. In this area. [there have been] positive signs on the part of the government, on the part of the National Electoral Council (CNE). With the new Constitution, the National Electoral Council, which is responsible for organizing elections, the Constitution states that they should organize the labor unions’ elections. The Committee on Trade Union Freedoms [has promulgated] decisions on this issue. Yes, the ILO Committee on Trade Union Freedoms said, “No, they can’t do this. No, this is interference, it’s interference.” The truth is that, about three weeks ago, some declarations came out saying that this is going to change. And this is a positive sign. In this sense there’s been an advance, at least in public opposition by the National Electoral Council, by the president of the National Electoral Council.

But up until now, there hasn’t been anything concrete. There ought to be union elections.

LA: But now, are the CNE and the unions, the CTV, currently discussing this?

GM: No. Not yet, nothing much has come out of this, because it must be the [members?] of the unions who choose, in accordance with their statutes, when they will hold the elections. If they want technical assistance in organizing them, that’s fine. But, for example, it is upheld in the Constitution, in the Law of the Electoral Power, that the CNE proclaims the directors of the unions [i.e., certifies the results of elections]. What took place with Carlos Ortega was that although the election was held – the whole world says there was fraud, I don’t know – the CNE refused to proclaim him the winner. So there was a very important union that didn’t have a leader proclaimed and recognized by the authorities. The idea would be that this doesn’t repeat itself. That the unions organize their own elections, proclaim their own leaders, and that’s it.

What’s happening is that the State says that they need to know with whom to negotiate the collective contracts. And that for this reason they have an interest in knowing which is the most representative union. Because it’s only the union with the most representation that can negotiate collective bargaining contracts, call a strike, etc. So it’s a complicated issue.

Here, if you have a company, and there are various unions in this same company, you can only sign collective bargaining contracts with the one which has the most members [within the company]. And the rest don’t--

LA: And will all the workers in the company be covered under this contract, not just those of the majority union?

GM: Yes. It’s for everyone, it applies to everyone. But due to this, the issue of representation – I have 10, you have 15, you have 20 – usually isn’t that important. Your company negotiated with the CTV, and noone was looking out for whether – it was assumed that they were the most representative. Now this is being put into doubt, and it would be necessary to see is they are really the most representative. I don’t know. This is because there’s another – new actors are battling in the world of the labor movement. They are [?] new trade union leaders with distinct political tendencies. But along general lines, this would need to be verified. I don’t know, I don’t want to make a pronouncement as to which is the most representative.

LA: Do you have an idea how many workers belong to unions today?

GM: It’s difficult because, more than anything – it seems important that there be transparent elections in the labor unions. Because usually, in collective bargaining contracts they would put a clause specifying that for each worker is taken out a certain quantity of money for the union. This is like assuming that they’re all members—

That the workers pay dues to their union, right?

GM: To that union. Exactly. So in accordance with this logic, all the workers end up in the same union. So this doesn’t benefit the liberties of the workers who are members or those who aren’t members. As doon as the collective contract is applied to you as a whole, you’re put in the position of paying dues to this union as the majority union.

And this is wrong, this is a harassment, no? Because it’s imposed.

LA: But you can also say that it’s unjust if a union has to fight for the workers who don’t pay dues. It’s difficult in both directions.

GM: Exactly. It’s difficult in practice to create a mechanism that [brings about] benefits for all. But it happens that this had been fashioned so that nobody was questioning who was the – where were, with whom were the workers represented. Nobody questioned it. Now that there is questioning, we’ll see how it ends, we’ll see if the elections will appear and all that. Truly, I don’t have that much of command of [this topic].

It’s come about that various -- It’s the CTV, which is like the central national federation, it’s the UNT, it’s FETRASEP, which also has affiliates – of course, here there has been the whole issue of the government not having negotiated with FENTRASEP.. In recent years, two contracts –

And FENTRASEP isn’t with either the UNT or the CTV? It’s independent?

It’s not with the CTV. It’s independent of the UNT and it’s independent of the CTV. This – it’s Franklin Rondón. [I think this is inaccurate – Rondón, president of FENTRASEP, is also a national director of the UNT. –LA] And last year, they succeeded in negotiating two collective contracts that are most important, which are the one for public white-collar employees, all the white-collar employees of the public sector, and for all the manual laborers of the public sector. These are the two. Clearly, with these they are proving that they are representative.

What I really regret is that independently of whether it’s one or the other, neither -- the tripartite mechanisms, union, employer, and State, are [not] being carried out. Neither with FENTRASEP, nor with the UNT, nor with the CTV, nor with FEDEUNEP, nor with anybody. Here I see that, well, independently of whether it’s one or the other or the other, I think that the state is [??] [not] giving to all of them [their proper role in?] the design of policies. Policies like the minimum salary, employment plans, etc. Here it’s clear that neither the employers nor the workers, of whatever political tendency they may be, are taking part in participating in these issues that are suitable for them

LA: And in the past were there tripartite commissions?

GM: They were held chiefly for setting the [minimum] salary. This was indeed functioning, and, well, it functioned for the revision of the law that was regressive for the workers. Take note of this. So I think that these are not good precedents, what used to be the participation of unions, no? They weren’t good precedents. Even with union participation, it wasn’t beneficial for the workers.

And the salary increases – well, it’s always adjusting taking inflation into account, thus neither in this is there protagonistic participation. Nevertheless, it will be necessary to promote real participation which really benefits and represents the workers. What we had before wasn’t good. Before we has participation, but it wasn’t the most [?].

For example, with the issues of gender and employment, the women’s organizations, not the labor organizations, always had to educate on these issues. This has been – the unions did not address it [jointly].

LA: I think that the large majority of union leaders [here] are men, no? I know of one director who’s a woman...

GM: Yes, in truth, there aren’t very many. This is the theme of machismo at high levels, no? And in the unions too.

But, well, I think that this will have to tend towards change. But a lot has to be done!

LA: Yes, for us too.

GM: What is it like in the United States?

LA: I think there’s more, a little bit more equality in unions. I think there is -- lots of the members of unions today are women. They’re public workers, and in service jobs, and in particular many immigrant women. But still the majority of leaders are men. But there are more women—

GM: But is there a policy of quotas? Like affirmative action.

LA: I don’t think so. Because the union leaders are elected by the union members—

GM: Ah, so they don’t have to have a certain percentage of women on the board of directors. here there hasn’t been a policy of quotas. These quota policies they use, for example, in Argentina, for high-level positions in the public sector. And really . . . it’s gone from 1% to 28%. That is, for each position in the public administration of director or something similar, they must have five candidates, or six candidates, three men and three women. [...] It’s not that they’re going to choose a woman for being a woman. But it encourages women to opt for high-level positions in the hierarchy.

Here we haven’t got any of this type of affirmative action. It seems like, I think that [this is] the challenge we have in the Law of Equality of Opportunity for Women, but this law has not translated into public policies like quotas in the public sector, or quotas in the private sector, or expansion of benefits for women in all sectors, that work in all sectors. Very far behind other countries of Latin America. Also because there are other countries in Latin America that are more sexist, no? Venezuela isn’t one of the most sexist countries in Latin America. Bolivia, for example, is an ultra-sexist country.

LA: In terms of policies, or people’s attitudes?

GM: Yes, there’s much more – or Honduras, Guatemala. Women participate much less than in Venezuela. Nevertheless, here we lack policies oriented towards creating incentives to build more equality, seriously, in the workplace. So we have this law, and now [there are no policies?]. This is a problem.

LA: In the U.S. I think that there’s more equality for women in the middle class, but for poor women, no, there’s less. And quotas like in Argentina are illegal in the U.S. today. Not so much – both foe women and for people of color, but it’s a result of racism, more than of sexism—

GM: This is another problem; here we don’t have statistics or anything; for gender, yes, but there aren’t any by race, by color. The whole world knows that racism exists. But it’s not measured. This type of deportment isn’t measured, what color are your people, there aren’t studies on this theme.

And now there’s another problem that is generating a lot of disturbances, which is the issue of discrimination for political motives.

LA: Yes, this is another one of my questions, about this whole discussion of “Tascon’s list” and what’s going to happen now— [In 2003-2004, the opposition collected signatures for a referendum to recall the President. As many signatures appeared forged, the National Electoral Council ordered that people be given the opportunity to verify or remove their signature. Luis Tascón, a leading congressmember belonging to Chavez’s party, independently posted the list on his website. Sufficient signatures were certified, the recall referendum took place in August 2004, and Chavez won handily. Since then, there have been many reported cases of employers using the list as a basis for firing or refusing hire a worker based on whether or not he or she signed in favor of the referendum. This has occurred in both directions, that is, people have complained of discrimination both because they’re on the list and because they’re not on it, but problems seem most prevalent in public and quasi-public employers. -LA].

GM: Ay, I don’t know. I think that the problem – this did happen, happened quite a bit. In fact, here we [have received] some cases regarding this issue. And the situation – this happened a lot in PDVSA [the state-run oil company], but not due to the work stoppage. With the stoppage, the people stopped working and they were fired. It was an issue – the whole world [?] that there wasn’t such a work stoppage – in reality, [it was] a strike that didn’t comply with the requirements. And of course it was paralyzed – here, when there’s a strike, you have to guarantee minimum services. Even when there’s a strike. In this case they didn’t guarantee minimum services, and it was an important sector, due to the issue of energy – it was an important sector.

But afterwards, all this concerning political motives took place, that went further that people’s participation in a strike or -- That was one issue, that of the strike. What [happened later] took place a good deal in the public sector, as well as in the private sector, concerning the list.

And this list, well, [there shouldn’t be?] so much talk of Tascón. The National Electoral Council ordered that the list be published in the newspaper. Of course, he had it published on a website, for something like two months. But the reality is that in any event the list was to be published in the newspapers by order of the National Electoral Council.

LA: The list was published so that people could verify their signatures, right?

GM: Exactly. What happened was that it was decided that this was not an act of voting. And as it was not a vote, it wasn’t secret. But the reality is that is was a consultation that made evident people’s political tendency. Or at least it was interpreted as such. And it was used with discriminatory ends by the public sector and the private sector. But it also had significant effects on employment in the public sector. So, [there wasn’t???] a strike like in PDVSA, but there were also [politically motivated firings??] in the ministries, in the autonomous institutions of the State, some state enterprises – not just with workers but with contractors, etc. It’s not known exactly how many people, but certainly it was enough to be notable. That people could notice it.

One didn’t know what was happening – faced with this, people have taken various judicial actions, even opposition unions or – yes, unions from the opposition; some of the cases have already been closed. PROVEA, together with other organization, also [has brought a case to the courts.] And the reality is that there hasn’t been a judgment by the courts. Our case has not been rejected. But the labor organizations’ cases, which between both of them brought together approximately 1,500 workers – which is quite a lot, 1,500 workers –

LA: Fifteen hundred that were fired?

GM: Yes, that were fired. Obviously there were more people who were fired. But they [the unions] brought these cases [to the courts]. And they were rejected.

So, I have always been patient with the administration of justice in resolving cases [?]. This one took place approximately a year ago – that was when it started. After a year, there hasn’t been a tribunal to pass judgment on this case. Neither for this union’s case, not for other cases with which we’re familiar in which the people got themselves into the work stoppage, or [extreme??] labor demands. We ourselves still haven’t gotten a response. So here we have an issue that isn’t—

LA: And the judicial system hasn’t responded with anything?

GM: It hasn’t responded. it hasn’t responded at all. Basically, at least in our case, there hasn’t been anything.

So how is this going to be resolved? I think the announcement the president make about a week ago, that this is going to stop, is important. It’s interesting; I took away several ideas. Idea number one: yes, there was politically motivated discrimination, and yes, this list was used, and [the consequence has been] something very ugly, very ugly, that affected a lot of people. Because there were many people who signed, but not in order to vote against the president. I knew of some cases of this. So in these cases, this [discrimination] has been very badly looked upon, even by people in favor of the government.

The thing is – we think it’s good that he says that [use of the list must stop]. But it’s necessary to [restore] the rights of the people to whom this has already been done. This is what isn’t very clear to me in this declaration. Nevertheless, I already know – he’s named an attorney general who’s going to [review] the cases. The reality is that we’ve brought this case before the attorney general, and the prosecutor who [was in charge of?] our case closed it. So I don’t know up to what point it will be effective to have a new public prosecutor review all the cases. But the reality is that, in the case that Provea is bringing, the attorney general already closed the case, and said, “No, there’s nothing here, nothing happened here.” So, I don’t know – of course, this has had a lot of –

LA: I don’t understand – this case that Provea has before the attorney general’s office --

GM: When we received a case of [political discrimination??], we went to the Attorney General to exact punitive actions for abuse of authority, etc., and so that the labor tribunals would issue an order that these people be returned to their jobs, receive their [back] wages, and all that. After a year, the attorney general closed the investigation, and nothing has happened with the tribunals. Neither through the route of court orders nor through the route of criminal law have we achieved justice.

Taking into account that these are cases upon which hinge people’s daily sustenance, salaries, etc. There are cases where people don’t have – they remain without salaries, they remain without work. It’s particularly grave that the tribunals don’t decide quickly.

LA: Is it that you’re still waiting for the tribunals, or that they’re not going to do anything?

GM: We’re waiting for a decision. It’s like – what happens is that when one introduces a claim, they admit it or they don’t admit it. And then they [move to the next phase]. In reality, this phase, in theory, in the law, is supposed to take one week. In the law, these are the terms of the law. The reality is that they never take a week, they take much longer than a week. But it’s already been a year, and to not even have admitted the case is like – it’s exaggerated. This is a much longer wait that usual.

And, well, we’ll see. To me it seems positive that they’re making these declarations. But we mustn’t forget that – the magnitude of what took place. Understand?

Regarding unions: well, I think that these are points on which all the trade unions of all political tendencies are in agreement, in that there was politically motivated discrimination. I believe that some unions have brought this before the ILO. And this hasn’t yet been denounced before the ILO.

LA: Are there some unions that have tried to defend the workers that were fired?

GM: Yes. In both cases, they were thrown out. They were rejected. Ours continues, but in those two cases, it was rejected. Fifteen hundred workers—

LA: Why were they rejected?

GM: Because they [the complainants] didn’t practice due diligence. They didn’t conduct themselves like – the tribunal assumed that they no longer wanted to continue with their claim. It’s called dropping the claim. [The tribunal assumed] that they didn’t want to [continue]. And closed the case.

LA: But why didn’t they show up?

This is an error of theirs. This is an error. But neither – taking into account the consequences of what they’re asking for, there needs to be an exhibition of the evidence.

The unions involved in this lawsuit persisted in trying to act through the media, with little substance. But it’s also the case that the tribunals weren’t impartial. We need to unify the theme of unions with the theme of human rights.

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