Majority of Argentina’s brick factories affected by COVID-19

Argentina’s lockdown measures affected 75 percent of its brick factories and the payment of wages to workers. This is one of the major findings of a report released by the Union Workers of Bricks Industry of the Republic of Argentina (UOLRA), a BWI affiliated organization, on COVID-19 and the brick industry. 

UOLRA’s report also said that government aid is not reaching many brick workers due to the majority of them being migrant workers from Bolivia, who move in and out of the migrant stream to earn a living. 

The report also underscored the brick workers’ appalling situation. It said that the brick industry involves 140,000 working families. 32 percent of brick families must travel more than two kilometres from "brick neighborhoods" to access food, healthcare and community supplies. Meanwhile, 43 percent of brick families travel more than two kilometres in order to have access to health centers. 

Many workers are also not registered. UOLRA said that only 12 percent of factories have registered workers while 40 percent only registered half of their workers. In brick ovens, 13 percent of those surveyed employ informal workers. Labour exploitation in the brick industry extends to the workers’ families. As many workers live in factories with their families, this situation forces women and children to become part of the production process. 

UOLRA General Secretary Luis Cáceres said that the report is the union’s contribution to the effects of COVID-19 to Argentina’s brick workers. “The pandemic has deepened the already critical situation of brick workers. As trade unionists, we believe that real solutions can only be the result of working together and the elimination of the division between formal and informal workers.”

The report, which drew from the experiences of informal workers and family entrepreneurs’ workers in the brick sector, as well as ILO data, was developed with the help of the Institute of Social Sciences and Administration (ICSyA) of the National University Dr. Arturo Jauretche and with the International Labour Organization (ILO) sponsoring. It was publicly launched online through the Zoom platform which was attended by Dr. Claudio Moroni, Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Security.  

UOLRA has worked on the achievement of a just transition to the formal sector. Through reforms to its statutory structures, UOLRA has managed to fully incorporate into its trade union leadership factory workers, brick kilns, peri-urban sectors and large cities, informal workers and family entrepreneurs’ workers. The union has ensured access to its CBA by covering its “Obra social” (health assistance provided by the union nationwide) and unionisation as a fundamental right, even during a pandemic.