The national government has put the brakes on moves to kick start the 2018 legislative year with an early vote on its labour reform package, while also committing its congressional bloc to proper debate procedures following criticisms late last year that it had opted for "an express vote" on the controversial labour reform package.
Cabinet Chief Marco Peña told reporters on Tuesday that President Mauricio Macri would not recall Congress to sit for extraordinary sessions in February.
“We want to work from March 1 within a legislative calendar that allows bills to pass through all steps of debate”, Peña said, stepping away from statements he made last year that Congress would begin sitting from February 14.
Labour unions and the opposition oppose the proposed labour reforms, while the government is cautious about the possibility of unrest after the violence that engulfed Congress in December when lawmakers passed the pension reform bill.
“The (labour reform) bill sent to Congress was prepared after an agreement with the CGT [the country's main union confederation]. We have worked with the CGT’s procedures. If the CGT wants to propose new modifications to the bill sent (to Congress), then we are open to discussing these”, Peña said.
“We think the bill (in its current form) is beneficial for workers”.
The head of the Peronist block in Congress Miguel Angel Pichetto took aim at the government on Tuesday, saying the opposition will not operate on the government’s watch. He also questioned cabinet ministers for “vacationing in Punta del Este” (the Uruguayan resort town) instead of publicly defending the reform package.
Unions have already begun engaging with the private sector and provincial governments for usual summer talks about wages. Collective wage bargaining in Argentina can often tamper with a government’s political capital as it starts a new year. And with labour reform on the horizon, 2018 could turn out to be a tumultuous year.
On Tuesday, Peña called for “all sectors of society” to “commit to the goal” of the 15-percent inflation the government has set for 2018, despite this target falling short of many private estimates.
“We’re going to work during collective wage bargaining so we can, each of us, commit to securing a goal of 15 percent without jeopardising the real wages of workers,” Peña said. The rate of inflation “is clearly declining”, he added.
Peña touched on a number of other issues during his press conference including the wide-ranging presidential decree package signed by Macri last week which the Cabinet Chief described as a “constitutional tool”.
Moves are already under way to roll back the decree package on the grounds it subverts the role of Congress. These include a lawsuit by former lawmaker and anti-corruption activist Margarita Stolbizer.
Meanwhile, Peña also indicated that the government will move forward with modifications to the Ministries Law in order to reduce the number of political appointments by 20 percent.
And finally, responding to questions, he downplayed Pope Francis's decision to not visit Argentina during his current trip to Latin America.
“We don’t think this is a political decision”, Peña said. “He needs no invitation. We await him with an open heart and open arms. He’s our Pope, he’s everybody’s Pope”, Peña concluded.