Sunday, October 24, 2010

The "Right" to Part Time Work

Juan Orlando Hernández, the head of the Honduran Congress, is concerned about human rights, just not the human rights you or I would think about.

He's not concerned about the killings, beatings, kidnappings, and torture that go unpunished, documented by international and national human rights organizations; he's concerned about the right of workers to work part time.
"It is an attempt against human rights in Honduras not to go ahead and approve the Law of Part Time Work....What we can't stop doing in Honduras is making decisions, and that we are doing."

Hernández spoke in response to unions, who declared that anyone in favor of the Law of Part Time Work was their enemy.

Lets look at the proposed law in the context of human rights.

Article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, says
"Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment."

So, looks like the UN Declaration on Human Rights supports Juan Orlando Hernández, right? This language is copied word for word into the Honduran constitution as article 127. The new Law of Part Time Work will result in a larger pool of jobs according to every economic analysis.

But not so fast. Article 23.3 of the Declaration goes on to say
"Everyone who works has a right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity...."

The new Law of Part Time Work will allow violation of this clause of the International Human Rights Declaration.


Current employment law in Honduras requires full time permanent employment. The underlying reasoning behind this was that people and families should be able to support themselves with an existence "worthy of human dignity" if employed full-time, so long as the minimum wage kept pace with the cost of living. We all know that didn't happen, but that was the reasoning behind current employment law.

Clearly the Law of Part Time Work is a pro-business law. It reduces the cost of operation, increasing profits. Fewer full time employees means less paid in benefits; companies can choose to employ people for less than full time and adjust to fluctuations in demand. Think seasonal employment during the shopping season leading up to Christmas in the US.

The new law allows up to 40 percent of the employees of a business to be part time workers. As part time employees, to earn a living wage, they would have to combine multiple part time jobs, without receiving the benefits a full time worker at a single job would. So, while there may be a larger pool of jobs, many of them will come with few or no benefits, and will not by themselves support an individual or family. To make up for the lost benefits, a part time worker will need to work more hours per week than a full time employee works.

Fewer people overall will have access to benefits under the new law supported by Juan Orlando Hernández. Fewer people overall will earn enough to feed and house themselves and their families.

Fewer Hondurans will have access to "an existence worthy of human dignity". That's the human rights dimension here.

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