Surviving in Argentina as crisis causes layoffs

BUENOS AIRES: Bruno Di Mauro spends his days in a tent in front of the laboratory where he used to work, hoping that one day it will resume its activities and give him back his livelihood.

“It’s very distressing. Most of us went out looking for work but didn’t find anything, and for those that did, it’s precarious,” says the 28-year-old former employee of Roux-Ocefa, a laboratory specializing in medicinal products and serum.

The laboratory was closed on Oct 1 after 83 years, leaving 420 workers jobless.

“Right now what’s most urgent is eating. I have colleagues who’ve fallen into a deep depression, one died due to this depression, another committed suicide. I try to remain upbeat,” added Di Mauro, who formed a workers’ cooperative in the hope of relaunching the lab.

Argentine unemployment rose to almost 10% in the second quarter of 2018, up almost two percent from the end of 2017.

In the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, where a quarter of Argentina’s 44 million population lives, that figure is 12.4%.

In Rosario, Argentina’s third city 300km north of the capital, unemployment is at almost 18 percent for the under-30s.

When Ricardo Barrionuevo published an advertisement on Oct 1 for 10 job openings at his pizzeria, he received 1,000 applicants.

Argentina is in the midst of an economic crisis brought on by a crash in confidence surrounding the currency.

The peso has lost around half of its value against the dollar this year, inflation is expected to end 2018 at 40% and interest rates are up at 70%.

Although the economy grew three percent in the first quarter, it is expected to shrink by 2.6% over the year.

Father of two Alex Cuello, 31, has become an odd-jobs man in order to survive.

“I do a bit of everything. Last year there were odd jobs every day but now I only get called once or twice a week on average. It’s getting desperate,” he said.

‘Uber or stealing’

His eyes filling with tears, 63-year-old Pablo De Biase says he faces two choices: “It was Uber or stealing, and I’m not going to steal”.

An electronics technician by trade, he spent two months in depression after losing his job as a car wash attendant in March.

Now he drives around ferrying passengers for Uber, despite the fact it’s not authorized in Buenos Aires, where some chauffeurs have complained of being attacked by taxi drivers.

Alongside bicycle delivery jobs, it has become an increasingly common, although unstable, source of employment.

Throughout his life, De Biase has alternated between economic successes and abrupt falls. He’s been through inflation and devaluation. He’s lost everything, only to rebuild from scratch.

But time is no longer on his side. Age is an important factor in the labor market.

The economic crisis and accompanying austerity measures it has brought, have made life even more taxing.

“It hurts living in Argentina, there’s a lot of sadness,” he says.

In September alone, 8,500 people were either made laid off or put on forced leave with a reduced salary — a tenth of those due to companies closing down, according to the national Center for Political Economics.

There were another 32,100 layoffs between January and August, with another 7,000 people put on forced leave.

Half of the layoffs came in the public sector, which has lost 32,000 jobs — 13% of the workforce — since December 2015.

“In September there was a drop in employment, but not an abrupt one,” Dante Sica, minister for Production and Work, said recently.

“It hasn’t grown since but has remained stable. The crash was basically in the industrial sector but (employment) has been maintained in the service sector.”

‘Keep going’

Agronomist Renata Valgiusti, 53, was one of 400 people who lost their jobs in the Agroindustry ministry in August, while another 300 were laid off in April.

Like many public sector workers, though, Valgiusti received no compensation as she was on an automatically renewing contract.

But with 20 years of experience in her profession, Valgiusti is not letting her head drop.

“It’s a time to organize yourself and think about creative alternatives to keep going,” she says.

Official figures look bad but experts believe the pinch is felt even harder by undocumented workers, thought to make up 35% of the workforce.

For every declared job lost, three undeclared ones are yanked.

“The landscape is super difficult,” says Patricia di Pinto, who has worked for a recruitment consultancy for 11 years.

She says companies simply aren’t hiring, with construction and small businesses worst affected.

International consultancy Willis Towers Watson says that 56 percent of 454 companies polled said they intend to lay off workers before the end of the year. Back in March, that figure was only 18%. — AFP

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