Colombia government sends labor reform to Congress, aims to cut hours

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro is pictured on the day of a presentation of the labor reform that his government wants to carry out, in Bogota, Colombia March 16, 2023. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's government presented a labor reform bill to Congress on Thursday that would reduce working hours and boost overtime pay, but critics say the measures could hurt job creation.

The bill is part of a raft of reforms being pushed by President Gustavo Petro, the country's first leftist leader, as he looks to fight poverty.

Congress passed a major tax reform last year and is debating changes to the healthcare system. The government is expected to present a pension reform proposal next week.

Petro's coalition has a majority in Congress, though the health reform has caused friction with some legislative allies and led to the exit of one member of his cabinet.

"It is precisely the reduction of salaries, job instability, which have not allowed the growth of productivity in Colombia," Petro told a crowd in central Bogota, before the bill was formally proposed to Congress.

The initiative, which must be approved by both lawmakers and the Constitutional Court, seeks to enshrine eight-hour work days, reduce the normal work week to 42 hours and guarantee at least one day off every seven days. The standard workweek in Colombia is now 48 hours.

The reform risks hurting job creation, Jaime Alberto Cabal, president of merchants association Fenalco, told journalists earlier on Thursday.

"(The bill) forgets about the unemployed, the opportunity to access work and the possibilities for informal workers to get formal work due to the high costs," he said.

The bill includes a measure to enshrine daytime working hours at between 6 a.m and 6 p.m., increasing the chance of overtime pay. Daytime hours currently run until 10 p.m.

Overtime cannot exceed two hours per day or 12 hours per week under the planned proposal, while work on Sundays or holidays will mean double pay.

The bill also seeks to ensure health and pension contributions for those who work through delivery apps and other digital platforms.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Nelson Bocanegra and Carlos Vargas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Mark Porter, Robert Birsel)

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