‘National Agreement’ dialog is off to a rocky start as labor and indigenous groups refuse to participate; Rescuing IESS is a priority

May 21, 2019 | 7 comments

Announced with great fanfare in April, the government’s National Agreement 2030 dialog is off to an inauspicious start.

Labor leader José Villavicencio refuses to participate in the dialog.

Designed to develop consensus between the government, business and civil society, the program involves discussion of seven topics: education, Social Security, innovation and employment, democracy and institutional reform, environmental sustainability, crime and drug addiction.

In addition, the government said that dozens of “subthemes and tangents” of the main topics would be open for discussion.

The dialog, which began last week at Quito’s Bicentennial Convention Center, is organized around “topic tables”. In addition to officials of the central government, local governments, unions, corporations, citizen rights groups and international organizations will be represented. Academic experts and the media are also invited.

Before discussions began, however, the country’s largest labor union and the largest indigenous rights organization announced that they would not participate.

The president of the Unitary Workers Front (FUT), José Villavicencio, said the discussions were a “sham,” designed to rubber stamp new government policies to satisfy requirements of Ecuador’s loan package with the International Monetary Fund. “It is an excuse for the implementation of neoliberal labor policies that satisfy corporate interests and financial markets,” he said. “Look at the vagueness of the agenda involving labor and you see where they are going with this.”

The indigenous group Conaie is also boycotting the talks. “We will not join this illegitimate party,” the group said in a prepared statement. “The National Agreement is a hasty attempt to provide political legitimacy to neoliberal government plans amid a panorama of economic crisis.”

Conaie also sites the program’s refusal to address mining and oil extraction issues. “This government and the previous government have consistently violated the constitutional rights of indigenous communities and they continue to refuse to discuss the issue,” the organization’s statement said.

Among the dialog’s most critical topics are Ecuador’s Social Security system (IESS) and the country’s labor law.

According to IESS president Paúl Granda, the system needs a substantial funding infusion to provide pensions and health care services. He blames the government of former president Rafael Correa for reducing the IESS budget while he expanded services. “The addition of health services to the children of members added hundreds of millions of dollars of expenses without providing the funding to pay for it,” he says. “Today, IESS is in crisis and we must develop a plan to make the system healthy again.”

Among reforms to the country’s labor law being proposed are easing of rules on contract labor and a change of wage and hour standards involving overtime pay. Both are opposed by labor unions.

Among the “subthemes” to be discussed are the possible elimination of the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control.

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