Unemployment and the role of supranational policies

EU supranational policies should be more active at promoting institutional reforms that reduce unemployment

Elevator pitch

Unemployment in Europe is excessively high on average, and is divergent across countries and population groups within countries. On the one hand, over the past decades, national governments have implemented incomplete institutional reforms to amend dysfunctional labor markets. On the other hand, EU supranational policies—those that transcend national boundaries and governments—have offered only limited financial support for active labor market policies, instead of promoting structural reforms aimed at improving the functioning of European labor markets. Better coordination and a wider scope of EU supranational policies is needed to fight unemployment more effectively.

Unemployment rate across selected EU

Key findings


Some EU countries have effective institutional setups in place for handling shocks while avoiding high unemployment, indicating that best practices do exist.

Improvements in the EU coordination framework for employment policies could promote reforms to reduce unemployment.

A significant step forward would be the establishment of an EU unemployment insurance program and introduction of wage subsidies partially financed by EU funds and implemented using individual accounts.


Key reforms were not undertaken during the recent crisis, leaving many EU countries with semi-reformed labor markets that are still not fully capable of handling negative shocks.

The EU has lost credibility regarding its ability to coordinate policy, stabilize member economies, and promote efficient structural reforms.

EU supranational initiatives are often seen as a means of imposing unwarranted reforms that may not benefit specific member countries.

Author’s main message

During the Great Recession and the European debt crisis, the EU framework for policy coordination failed to provide either sufficient economic stabilization or clear guidelines for structural reforms. As a result, unemployment in Europe remains high, as does its dispersion across countries and population groups. Dysfunctional labor markets still prevail in many countries and, because of reform fatigue and strong insider resistance, progress in structural reforms seems highly unlikely. Improvements in the coordination of economic, social, and employment policies, and, in particular, new EU labor market programs are needed to promote successful structural reforms.


Unemployment in Europe is not only unbearably high, but also insupportably different across nations belonging to an economic and monetary union. Failure to cope with this situation may lead to the collapse of the common EU institutional architecture.

Unemployment differentials have never been as marked as they are today. As of 2014, the top four (Portugal, Croatia, Greece, and Spain) and bottom four (Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands) national unemployment rates in the EU28 differed by a factor of almost four. In the US by contrast, the corresponding figure for the top five (Michigan, California, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Nevada) and bottom five states (South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, and Vermont) was only 2.4. Clearly, talking about “European unemployment” or, even more so, of a “European structural unemployment problem” is highly misleading. Moreover, reducing this divergence among unemployment rates is a prerequisite for the smooth functioning of the economic and monetary union.

EU unemployment divergence has its roots in institutional differences. Moreover, EU policy coordination and conditionality during the crisis did very little to improve employment policies or to make labor markets more resilient to shocks in countries with high unemployment (mostly in southern European countries). Additionally, EU employment policies, notably EU conditionality for countries involved in rescue programs, failed to account for the cyclical nature of economic conditions, and did not put enough emphasis on productivity-enhancing structural reforms. Learning from these mistakes is essential to improving the economic policy coordination framework in Europe. Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, as called for by the “Five Presidents’ Report” [2], will not be possible without a more decisive intervention of supranational polices in structural reforms.

Discussion of pros and cons


Figure 1 provides the mean unemployment rates and their standard deviations (both aggregate and by age groups) in a sample of EU countries during the 1984–2015 period (the corresponding annual series are plotted in Figure 2). There were two main recessions during this period, one in the early 1990s, and the double-dip recession during the aftermath of the Great Recession and the European debt crisis (in bold).

Unemployment rates, overall and by age
                        groups, across time

Mean and standard deviation of
                        unemployment rates in a sample of EU countries

Looking at these developments, the performance of European labor markets during the Great Recession and the European debt crisis could be characterized by a number of observations set out in the following paragraphs.

First, unemployment in Europe is not only unbearably high, but also increasingly divergent across countries. During the 2009–2013 crisis, both the unemployment rate and its cross-country dispersion (in the sample of 13 countries considered) were higher than in the previous recession, regardless of the population age group considered. The fact that the aggregate unemployment rate was lower in 2009–2013 than in 1992–1993, while the corresponding rates for separate age groups were higher, is obviously due to the composition effect arising from the aging labor force. During the mild recovery of 2014–2015, mean unemployment rates and their cross-country dispersion continued to rise, both at the aggregate level and for each age-specific group.

Second, youth unemployment (for the 15–24 age group) climbed above (often well above) 40% in southern Europe , while remaining mostly unchanged in Austria and Germany. As shown in one study, the rise in unemployment was due both to a youth hiring freeze and to heavy destruction of those jobs held by young people [3]. Since 2009, alongside low educational attainment and lack of skills, younger age has been associated with higher probability of losing a job and lower likelihood of moving from unemployment to employment, especially in countries where the rise in unemployment has been highest.

Third, the rise in unemployment is associated with decreasing GDP. The shocks driving the crisis (for example, the presence and magnitude of housing bubbles in the pre-crisis period and the poor resilience of financial markets), and challenges related to the policy responses to it (for example, fiscal and external financing problems and bail-out issues), explain a great deal of the cross-country dispersion in both GDP growth and unemployment.

However, about half of the cross-country variation in unemployment is not explained by GDP, but instead seems to be associated with labor market institutions and employment policies. For example, the change in unemployment per point of variation in GDP growth turned out to be significantly higher in countries where dual employment protection legislation (EPL) leads to strong segmentation between employees with full-time, regular contracts, and those with atypical contracts (part-time, temporary, or seasonal).

Finally, microeconomic evidence shows that firms followed a variety of strategies to adjust to the shocks, using different combinations of employment, wages, hours worked, and other adjustment mechanisms, and that these strategies were to some extent conditioned by the labor market institutional framework prevailing in each country [4]. Thus, while some countries had the proper institutions in place to deal with shocks, others were in more difficult positions. These countries lacked the appropriate institutions to accommodate the large reallocation of resources needed given the nature of the shocks.

Functional and dysfunctional labor market institutions

The above observations show that some countries allowed several margins of adjustment to their labor market institutions that accommodated the crisis’s negative shocks. In others, labor market institutions amplified the negative consequences of the shocks. The most evident examples are:

  • Subsidizing reductions in working hours. Some countries (most notably Germany) activated a variety of instruments to concentrate the adjustment to the Great Recession on the intensive margin (i.e. a reduction of working hours). First, the scope of subsidized short-time work was increased. Second, German firms made heavy use of working time accounts (essentially a scheme allowing firms to borrow from their employees: rather than being paid for overtime work, employees had the right to work fewer hours at a later date). Third, the introduction of mini-jobs increased the scope of multiple job holdings, which helped prevent outright unemployment for many workers who lost their primary (or secondary) jobs.
  • Decentralized bargaining. There has been a clear trend toward decentralized wage-setting in some EU countries since the early 1990s. This is the case in Germany, which has been a pioneer in the introduction of so-called “exit clauses.” These clauses allow firms to use plant-level “pacts for employment and competitiveness,” which enable wage reductions rather than collective dismissals. In contrast, until at least 2012, collective bargaining institutions in Spain imposed wages established at “higher” (provincial or sectoral) levels that included very limited exit clauses. This prevented firms from being able to trade wage concessions with their workers for more employment security, as was the case in Germany.
  • Dual employment. The coexistence of two different segments in the labor market (employees with open-ended contracts and employees with temporary contracts) generated larger fluctuations in employment than those observed in fully flexible labor markets. Countries with a higher level of contractual dualism display a stronger responsiveness of unemployment to output changes. Since dismissing temporary workers is much less expensive than firing permanent employees, employment adjustments are mostly concentrated on those in temporary employment, which insulates workers holding permanent contracts from the consequences of negative shocks. Thus, large job losses among temporary workers may well coexist alongside wage rises among those employed under permanent contracts.
  • Active labor market policies (ALMPs). The effectiveness of ALMPs at reducing unemployment remains a controversial issue. Some surveys tend to conclude that, when taking into account deadweight, substitution, lock-in, and general equilibrium effects, ALMPs are not cost-effective at reducing unemployment [5]; others suggest that some programs, in particular those aimed at human capital accumulation, can have positive long-term effects on the employability of some targeted groups, especially in a recessionary climate [6]. In any case, the effectiveness of ALMPs seems to be rather dependent on the institutional framework in which they are implemented. Thus, human capital accumulation programs tend to be less effective in countries where dual EPL leads to job instability due to a high degree of worker turnover across short-term jobs. In sum, dysfunctional institutions not only lead to bad labor market performance, but also reduce the effectiveness of ALMPs.

The effects of labor market reforms throughout the business cycle

A huge literature on the effects of institutions on labor market outcomes offers insights into the long-term effects of institutional reforms [7]. The appropriate timing to implement labor market reforms is also an important topic for policy discussions. In principle, it seems that employment can be made more resilient to negative shocks by increasing wage flexibility during recessions, instead of increasing employment flexibility, which amplifies employment volatility, especially when done by promoting contract dualism.

Moreover, since the optimal level of unemployment benefits is lower when unemployment duration increases with benefits, generosity should be higher when the unemployment rate is high and be reduced during economic expansions [7], generosity should increase when the unemployment rate increases, and be reduced during economic expansions, although this raises the fiscal costs at the moment in which budgetary constraints are more binding. There are also conceptual reasons and empirical evidence to advocate that the counter-cyclicality of unemployment rates should be embedded in replacement rates (the ratio of benefits to past wages) rather than in duration entitlements.

Regarding ALMPs, there is some trade-off about their effectiveness and the resources available for financing them during the business cycle. In recessions, there are few job offers around, so even when some ALMPs are effective, the increase in the employment rate brought by these types of measures is small [7]. However, increasing employability during recessions is especially important to avoid hysteresis (that leads to cyclical rises in unemployment becoming permanent), and to stave off the decrease in the rate of people moving into employment due to long-term unemployment spells. On the other hand, public resources to upgrade ALMPs are scarcer in recessions. Hence, whether ALMPs should be conducted more intensively during recessions is, as with their overall effectiveness, a controversial issue. Increasing expenditures on ALMPs during downturns is politically challenging due to budgetary constraints, and, most often, these expenditures end up being pro-cyclical.

A similar trade-off also appears in pension reforms. Reforms that steeply raise the retirement age just when labor demand is declining may backfire. Employers may end up freezing new hires, preventing recessions from serving as labor market cleansing devices, especially in countries where young workers are better educated than incumbents. Instead, early retirement under actuarially neutral adjustment of pension benefits may be desirable, so as not to increase social costs in the long-term.

Summing up, there are three important policy lessons about the timing of structural reforms. First, their effects depend on cyclical conditions. Second, the employment policies needed during recessions involve higher public expenditures. Finally, precisely because employment policies during recessions may involve more public resources, it is important to design a sequential strategy taking into account intertemporal budget constraints—those constraints faced by a decision maker who is making choices for both the present and the future—which are especially relevant in the case of pension reforms. This sequential strategy is also needed because of political feasibility issues, which frequently lead to the implementation of most reforms during downturns (when they may be most harmful), and far fewer reforms in good times (when they would be most palatable).

The shortcomings of labor market reforms in Europe during the crisis

Although describing and assessing all labor market reforms implemented in EU countries since 2007 in detail is beyond the scope of this article, there are some key features that are important to highlight (for a summary list of labor market reforms in EU countries during this period, see [4]).

First, while some countries were able to accommodate negative shocks via their existing institutions and without a significant increase in unemployment (for example, Austria, Germany, and Belgium), others experienced a large increase in unemployment and implemented fundamental labor market reforms. In most cases, these reforms followed recommendations by international institutions to national governments that were either under formal rescue programs or were suffering severe macroeconomic imbalances (for example, Portugal, Greece, and Spain).

Second, labor market reforms essentially focused on (i) promoting wage moderation, (ii) implementing reductions in severance pay and, more broadly, the strictness of employment protection, and (iii) increasing statutory retirement age.

Third, not the recommendations from international institutions were closely followed (for these recommendations see [8][9][10]). The following were all overlooked and mostly absent from the reform agendas: the elimination of contractual dualism; the implementation of schemes inducing more adjustment along the intensive margin, such as short-time work or working time accounts; the introduction of productivity enhancing measures; exploiting complementarities between ALMPs and unemployment benefits by making the latter conditional on activation (as recommended, for instance, by the OECD); and the introduction of actuarial reductions to early retirement, rather than forcing a rapid increase in the retirement age.

Thus, labor market reforms implemented by national governments were not fully rooted in key lessons from international experience. They did not adequately account for the differences in labor market responses to shocks in the euro area [4], nor for the counterproductive effects of labor market reforms under major recessions. As a result, the EU countries most affected by the rise in unemployment did not find any fiscal space to accommodate negative shocks, and were forced to undergo internal devaluation processes that turned out to be excessively costly in terms of employment losses. Although some of the measures implemented in those countries may have been desirable in normal times, incompleteness, lack of coherence, and bad implementation of the reform packages have left these countries in not much better positions compared to where they were prior to the crisis, with dysfunctional institutional labor market configurations.

Toward a new approach of EU supranational policies

The recent negative experience of structural reforms during the European crisis period suggests that the coordination framework and the conditionality principle behind EU supranational policies have not delivered a more efficient institutional framework, especially regarding European labor markets. Increasing cross-country divergence in unemployment is the result of the contrast between countries with an adequate combination of labor market institutions and those with dysfunctional policies. In the former, negative shocks were accommodated without a rise in unemployment, while in the latter, unemployment surged. Although reforms implemented during the crisis period in the latter countries moved their institutional frameworks in the right direction by promoting wage and employment flexibility, they failed to anticipate some negative consequences during downturns and did not address all the institutional drawbacks prevalent in these countries.

This sequence of events has two negative consequences. One is reform fatigue, especially in countries that implemented reforms during the crisis. The other is the lack of credibility of the EU framework for policy coordination, economic stabilization, and promotion of efficient structural reforms. National governments have difficulties introducing best practice institutions, and EU supranational initiatives in this respect are seen as instruments to impose unwarranted reforms or, in the less adverse case, to support the status quo.

Insisting on conditionality and imposing reforms from abroad are likely to present further barriers for efficient structural reforms. If national governments do not take full ownership of their own reforms, the most likely result will continue to be the implementation of incomplete policy packages that do not fully address the roots of dysfunctional labor markets. Similarly, if supranational institutions do not take full ownership of the policies that they recommend, implementation at the national level will most likely be inefficient.

Moreover, since reforms may have strong effects on income distribution, and may thus require compensating losers, there is a need for greater funding of employment programs. Supranational funding, if well-designed, could lessen the institutional shortcomings of some countries, while at the same time playing a stabilizing role across the eurozone. Admittedly, there are limitations to the financial resources that an EU budget can provide. However, the EU budget will have to be upgraded to meet the challenges of “completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union.” Additionally, the available resources already devoted to improving “competitiveness for growth and jobs” and “economic, social and territorial cohesion” (about €113.3 billion in 2016, amounting to around 73% of the total EU budget) could surely be more effectively spent in meeting some of these challenges.

There are ways to change this undesirable state of affairs by using EU supranational policies to promote efficient labor market reforms, while, at the same time, meeting some desirable criteria, namely, (i) not harming the subsidiarity principle—the belief that decisions should be made at the local level, if possible, (ii) keeping conditionality, and (iii) being financially feasible under reasonable budget constraints.

For instance, one study advocates “positive conditionality,” a concept based on the following four principles [1]:

  • EU supranational policies should be complementary to national programs, not substitutes for them. The sole competence for employment policy should remain with the member states.
  • EU supranational policies should implement measures that neither involve large expenditures (given the EU budget constraints) nor deliver permanent transfers across countries.
  • EU supranational policies should empower people as opposed to national governments, by providing fully portable benefits across national jurisdictions in the form of EU-wide entitlements. These benefits could also contribute to reducing some barriers to transitory labor mobility, which could play a stabilizing role in case of asymmetric shocks.
  • Access to the benefits of EU supranational policies should be conditional on national governments accepting best practice institutional changes. National governments should be free to choose either to accept EU benefits, and thereby implement the required institutional reforms, or to retain their status quo institutional framework, but without gaining access to the EU benefits.

A useful instrument to achieve the above goals is the gradual introduction of individual accounts, which could make transfers involved in EU supranational policies to European citizens easily implementable, more visible, flexible, and better targeted to the most disadvantaged population groups.

The following discussion offers an example of how these principles could be put into practice by creating a specific program aimed at providing hiring incentives, unemployment insurance, and support for pension entitlements, all at once.

Inadequate EPL and contract dualism are the major sources of inefficient worker turnover and job instability, and act as a barrier to human capital accumulation and productivity growth. To combat this, the EU could create a “European Employment Contract for Equal Opportunity,” which would be an open-ended contract with severance pay gradually increasing along with worker tenure [11], as included in the new open-ended contract introduced in Italy and effective since March 2015. The contract comes with individual savings accounts that accumulate contributions by employers (as created in the Austrian system via reforms of severance pay implemented in 2003 [12]) and by a new European Fund (which could be constituted through the combination of resources from Structural Funds and the European Social Fund). The European contributions would play the role of hiring subsidies, since employers would benefit from the reduction in labor costs resulting from the EU contributions to individual accounts. Only if national governments implemented this contract, with the attached EPL provisions, could newly hired workers under the new European contract benefit from the contributions of the European Fund. In this way, national governments would have an incentive to implement the needed EPL reform.

Upon dismissal, workers could use the funds accumulated in their individual accounts to either finance training or complement unemployment benefits paid by national insurance programs. As such, this measure embeds the embryo of a complementary “European Unemployment Insurance Program,” which introduces some automatic stabilizers at the EU level while promoting solidarity and social and economic cohesion among member states, an explicitly stated goal of the European Treaties. By doing so, this policy could deliver both a smoother absorption of asymmetric shocks and more economic convergence [13]. As suggested in another study, the presence of an experience rating in the financing of unemployment benefits (under which employers with higher firings contribute more to the funding of unemployment benefits) provided by national governments under this contract would also be convenient, and could be a required condition for EU funding [11].

Workers not dismissed could use the funds accumulated in their individual accounts to complement pension entitlements. Introducing some pre-funding of pension entitlements under defined contribution schemes could help promote actuarial neutrality and the portability of pension rights across jurisdictions. Greater information transparency about future pension rights and intertemporal budget constraints, both at the aggregate and the individual levels, is needed to improve flexibility in retirement age, which would soften the cost of adjustment to macroeconomic shocks while also rejuvenating the workforce. Moreover, generalizing actuarially neutral adjustments to pension entitlements enables the full and sustainable portability of pension rights across jurisdictions, and forces intra-EU bilateral agreements among social security administrations to be more transparent.

Limitations and gaps

Calls for more active involvement of EU supranational policies in the institutional reform of EU member countries and for larger funding of EU employment programs typically face both economic and political objections. The economic objection generally has three layers. The first deals with the nature of externalities and spillovers across countries that would justify strong intervention by supranational institutions in national labor markets. The second is the lack of consensus about the diagnosis and treatment of the causes of dysfunctional labor markets. Finally, there is the issue of the limited EU budget available to fund employment policies with positive conditionality. The main political objection is that these policies could potentially generate cross-country transfers and pressures to increase the EU budget. As argued above, these objections could be overcome by moving toward a new approach to designing and implementing EU supranational policies.

Summary and policy advice

Dysfunctional labor markets remain prevalent in multiple EU countries despite the reforms implemented during the recent crisis. These reforms were incomplete and, in some cases, counterproductive, as they were introduced without sufficient consideration of their consequences during downturns. Unemployment is becoming increasingly divergent across EU member countries and national governments seem incapable of delivering a complete package of efficient structural reforms. Reform fatigue, insiders’ resistance to alter the status quo, and the lack of scope of EU supranational policies make it very likely that the current unfortunate state of affairs will persist. Under this scenario, with this combination of policy failures at the national and supranational levels, it is difficult to foresee a bright future for a united Europe.

EU supranational policies should be reconsidered in a bid to change this situation. New EU programs with positive conditionality, rather than recommendations and guidelines either suggested or imposed under rescue programs, should be the norm rather than the exception. They could give national governments the necessary incentives to implement institutional changes based on best practices. Moreover, by empowering European citizens rather than national governments, these programs would make EU policies more credible, and, at the same time, more transparent and socially acceptable.


The author thanks an anonymous referee and the IZA World of Labor editors for many helpful suggestions on earlier drafts. Previous work of the author, especially joint work with Tito Boeri, contains a larger number of background references for the material presented here [1].

Competing interests

The IZA World of Labor project is committed to the IZA Guiding Principles of Research Integrity. The author declares to have observed these principles.

© Juan F. Jimeno



No medimos bien la inflación de los precios de los alimentos

¿Es esto corrupción, error técnico o agenda política?

7 10 17 — Lisardo Bolaños…

Hay economistas preocupados por cómo el Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) calcula la inflación. El INE muestra información de que los precios de los alimentos están creciendo de forma acelerada, pero no hay evidencia de ello, ya que 1) un crecimiento del 83 % en siete años habría llevado a un estallido social, dado que los salarios casi no han crecido en dicho período, y 2) seguimos exportando alimentos a países vecinos que mantienen precios bajos de alimentos (véase, por ejemplo, este enlace). ¿Es posible que los números del INE estén tan errados? Parece que sí. ¿Es esto corrupción, error técnico o agenda política? Eso es lo que quisiéramos saber.

Un amigo economista fue el primero en hablarme del tema, ya que tiene experiencia en la exportación agrícola. Al principio, la idea de que la inflación esté mal medida no me convencía, así que revisé información de El Salvador y Honduras. Ambos países han experimentado similares fenómenos climáticos y similares cambios en su política comercial (Cafta), y ambos son países a los que exportamos productos alimenticios. Resulta que el INE reporta un crecimiento acelerado de los precios de alimentos en Guatemala en comparación con Honduras y El Salvador (ver gráfica 1). Lo raro es que, a pesar de que los precios de nuestros productos alimenticios continúan creciendo de forma acelerada, seguimos exportando alimentos a ambos países. Esto no tiene sentido. Así que, si hay trampa o error en cómo se calcula la inflación, hay dos potenciales lugares para hacerlo: 1) en cómo se recopila la información de precios o 2) en las fórmulas que se utilizan para calcular la inflación.


Gráfica 1. Índice de precios de alimentos de Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras (2008 = 100)

Fuente: Cepalstat y entidades estadísticas de cada país.


La recopilación de precios no es el problema hoy, en el 2017. El INE reporta, para agosto de 2017, que su precio a nivel nacional es de Q3.78. El Ministerio de Agricultura reporta que los precios mayoristas del quintal de cebolla blanca es de Q280 (nacional) y Q320 (importada), lo cual tiene sentido, dado el precio por libra del INE. Una tercera fuente provino de un grupo de economistas e ingenieros que se dedicaron a comparar la canasta de alimentos en distintos lugares del país para verificar qué ocurría con el cálculo de la inflación. Se recopilaron facturas y hay fotos con precios de Q3.60 y Q3.70. Con esta información, parece que la recopilación de precios no es hoy el problema.

El problema parece que está en la fórmula que el INE ha utilizado en los últimos años. Con la información disponible en la página del INE generé la tabla 1, que presenta dos datos importantes: 1) los precios que debería tener la cebolla según la inflación en sus precios que el INE ha reportado en los últimos años y 2) los precios que reporta el INE para la libra de cebolla. Si hay una diferencia entre estos números, eso indicaría que el INE está haciendo mal el cálculo de la inflación (el índice de precios).


Tabla 1. Precio de una libra de cebolla 1) reportada por el INE y 2) calculada usando inflación de sus precios según el INE


El problema es evidente para los años 2016 y 2017. Para agosto de 2017, mientras el INE reportaba que el precio de una libra de cebolla era Q3.78, el precio que uno obtiene usando la misma información del INE sobre el índice de los precios de la cebolla sugiere que el precio es Q16.30. ¡Una diferencia del 331 %ǃ Esta inconsistencia es sospechosa.

Parece que el problema del INE no es solo con las cebollas. Un joven economista chapín hizo el análisis para toda la canasta básica de alimentos (CBA), y sus números parecen indicar que su costo podría ser hasta un 50 % menor al que hoy reporta el INE.

Esto podría haber ocurrido 1) por corrupción, pues alguien se queda con el dinero de reportar precios más altos; 2) por errores técnicos, ya que alguien cometió errores en la fórmula que se utiliza, o 3) porque, por impulsar una agenda política particular, alguien quería hacer que Guatemala pareciera más pobre y presionar por salarios mínimos más altos o una política monetaria favorable a los importadores. Esto ha sucedido en otros lugares. Por ejemplo, autoridades de Argentina y China han sido señaladas de alterar la inflación con fines políticos.

Sin transparencia no podemos saber cuáles son las posibles explicaciones. Las autoridades del INE deben dar un paso adelante, hacer transparente el cálculo de la inflación y colaborar para determinar qué está ocurriendo, por qué ocurrió y cómo resolverlo.



Mipymes, autoempleo y salario mínimo

Necesitamos superar el fetichismo con las mipymes y el autoempleo.


Para cierta izquierda chapina, las mipymes y el autoempleo representan la alternativa salvadora para los trabajadores frente al monstruo de la gran empresa explotadora. Para cierta derecha chapina, las mipymes y el autoempleo ejemplifican al empresario, ese héroe mitológico que lucha contra los obstáculos en su entorno para satisfacer al consumidor.

La realidad es que, en promedio, el autoempleo y las mipymes no son una buena alternativa de ingresos económicos ni para sus dueños ni para sus empleados. Usando la información que nos provee la Encuesta Nacional de Empleos e Ingresos (ENEI), mi coautora, Mónica Rivera, y yo analizamos el comportamiento de las mipymes y del salario mínimo desde el año 2002 (aunque no hay información para el período 2005-2009). ¿Qué fue lo que encontramos? Aquí quiero enfocarme en tres hallazgos: i) solamente el 30 % de los empleados del sector privado ganan más del salario mínimo, ii) solamente el 20 % de los autoempleados ganan más del salario mínimo y iii) la proporción de trabajadores y de empresarios de mipymes que ganan al menos el salario mínimo ha caído respecto al período 2002-2003.

La gráfica 1 nos muestra la proporción de trabajadores de mipymes que ganan al menos el salario mínimo. En específico, aquí muestro a los trabajadores y jornaleros del sector privado no agrícola a tiempo completo, -31 % y 4 % de la fuerza laboral. ¿Qué vemos? Primero, hoy en día solo un 30 % de los trabajadores del sector privado y un 10 % de los jornaleros ganan el salario mínimo. Segundo, que la proporción ha caído con el tiempo: de casi 70 % y 20 %, respectivamente, en el 2002 a solo 30 % y 10 %.

Gráfica 1. Proporción de trabajadores y jornaleros del sector privado no agrícola a tiempo completo con ingreso igual o mayor al salario mínimo (2002-2016)

La gráfica 2 nos muestra la proporción de empresarios de mipymes y de autoempleados no agrícolas que ganan al menos el salario mínimo, -3 % y 18 % de la fuerza laboral. ¿Qué vemos? Primero, que cerca de un 70 % de los empleadores de mipymes tienden a ganar por arriba del salario mínimo. Segundo, que solo cerca de un 20 % de autoempleados (empresarios sin trabajadores) ganan arriba del salario mínimo. Tercero, vemos que también los empleadores han experimentado una leve caída en su capacidad de generar ingresos, pues la proporción de los que ganaban más del salario mínimo en el período 2002-2003 estaba arriba del 80 % y ahora está por debajo del 70 %.

Gráfica 2. Proporción de empleadores y autoempleados no agrícolas con ingreso igual o mayor al salario mínimo (2002-2016)

¿Qué podría estar ocasionando que las mipymes no ofrezcan mejores ingresos como lo prometen las mitologías de izquierda y de derecha? Aparte de la regulación, que podría estar afectando, el problema es su tamaño. Las pequeñas empresas no pueden aprovechar economías de escala: técnicas de producción que les permitan ser más productivas cuando producen mayores cantidades. El resultado encontrado para Guatemala refleja lo que Chang-Tai Hsieh y Benjamin Olken encontraron para otros países en desarrollo: estos países son menos productivos porque, comparados con los desarrollados, tienen una menor proporción de empresas medianas y grandes. Por lo mismo, economistas como Mariana Mazzucato consideran necesario repensar el apoyo a las mipymes.

Por último, las gráficas nos llevan a preguntarnos qué ha llevado a que menos trabajadores (e incluso empresarios) estén ganando por arriba del salario mínimo en esta década y media. Dos son mis hipótesis favoritas: a) que la competencia de China y Vietnam para ciertos productos de exportación ha hecho que pasemos de exportar menos productos de manufactura (de mayores salarios) a más productos agrícolas (con menores salarios) y b) que los aumentos del salario mínimo que empezaron con el período de Portillo, y que han continuado a la fecha, han llevado a más mipymes a incumplir con el salario mínimo (tema que se discute en el estudio haciendo comparaciones internacionales).

Ver la evidencia más allá de los mitos es importante. Si realmente queremos mejorar los ingresos de la población guatemalteca, tenemos que comprender que, más que promover la empresarialidad como la solución del país, lo que necesitamos es apoyar a las empresas con la mayor capacidad de crear mejores empleos.



El insólito pedido de mejora salarial que los sindicatos de Estados Unidos hacen para los trabajadores de México

Que los sindicatos reclamen mejoras salariales para los trabajadores de su país es algo normal, pero ¿qué pasa cuando plantean lo mismo para los obreros de otra nación?

Eso es justamente lo que hizo la principal federación sindical de Estados Unidos, la AFL-CIO por sus siglas en inglés, de cara a las discusiones en curso para renegociar el Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte o TLCAN.

En un documento con varias recomendaciones que presentó al gobierno de EE.UU., la federación sindical sugirió nivelar el “terreno de juego” en materia salarial entre el país y los otros dos socios del tratado: México y Canadá.

En concreto, propuso acordar “que todos los trabajadores —sin importar el sector— tengan derecho a percibir salarios para que puedan solventar un nivel de vida decente para el trabajador y su familia en la región del país signatario donde reside”.

Y precisó que ese nivel de vida debe incluir “alimentos, agua, vivienda, educación, salud, transporte y otras necesidades esenciales, incluida la capacidad de ahorrar para la jubilación y emergencias”.

La propuesta es que se pueda considerar una violación del tratado cualquier exportación de un producto que tenga mano de obra de un trabajador remunerado por debajo de lo que exige ese nivel de vida.

Bandera en la frontera de México y EE.UU.Derechos de autor de la imagenGETTY IMAGES
Image captionEstados Unidos, México y Canadá abrieron el proceso para renegociar su acuerdo regional de libre comercio.

“Esto es un enfoque nuevo, diferente, y no ha sido incluido en un acuerdo comercial anteriormente”, señala Celeste Drake, especialista en política comercial de AFL-CIO.

Y admite que, si bien se aplicaría igualmente a los tres países, la propuesta apunta en particular a mejorar los salarios de los obreros mexicanos, que consideran injustamente bajos.

“Es la misión de los sindicatos locales hacer esto, pero los sindicatos locales en México están siendo reprimidos, no tienen una oportunidad justa de organizarse”, dice Drake a BBC Mundo.

“Ventajas comparativas”

Los bajos salarios de México son una vieja inquietud de los sindicatos estadounidenses: es algo que les preocupa desde antes que el TLCAN entrara en vigor en 1994.

Al igual que la cuestión ambiental, el compromiso por cumplir las leyes laborales de cada país fue incluido finalmente en los acuerdos suplementarios del tratado y no en el texto básico.

La brecha salarial entre EE.UU. y México se mantuvo con el acuerdo en funcionamiento, pese a que el país latinoamericano recibió grandes inversiones que permitieron a cientos de miles de personas entrar a la clase media.

Y los sindicatos al norte del Río Grande ven el momento de actualizar las reglas laborales ahora que el presidente de EE.UU., Donald Trump, abrió el proceso para modificar el TLCAN.

El objetivo de Trump es lograr que la industria de su país, que ha visto desplazar miles de puestos de trabajo a México, compita en términos más favorables para reducir el déficit comercial con el vecino del sur.

Presidente de EE.UU., Donald Trump.Derechos de autor de la imagenGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDonald Trump: el presidente de EE.UU. busca mejores condiciones para la industria de su país en el TLCAN.

Sin embargo, la recomendación hecha por AFL-CIO al representante comercial de EE.UU. parece lejos de reunir consenso entre expertos.

“Determinar niveles salariales en un tratado internacional es inapropiado“, sostiene John Ries, un profesor de comercio internacional en la Universidad de British Columbia, en Canadá.

A su juicio, intervenir en el mercado laboral y aumentar los salarios es una cuestión que México debe definir de forma doméstica.

“Las diferencias salariales son la base de las ventajas comparativas y para el comercio. Entonces, si fijamos salarios iguales no habrá esas ventajas comparativas”, señala Ries a BBC Mundo.

“Soy solidario con que los mexicanos tengan un nivel salarial razonable, pero ¿qué pasaría si los salarios se fijan tan altos que nadie emplea a esos trabajadores mexicanos? Acabarían sin tener ningún trabajo”, razona.

Un obstáculo difícil

Drake, la especialista de AFL-CIO, niega que el objetivo de los sindicatos sea igualar los salarios mexicanos con los estadounidenses o aumentarlos a un nivel que vuelva inviable la contratación de mano de obra.

Pero sostiene que “la idea de la ventaja comparativa no dice que estás habilitado a ganar tu ventaja abusando y explotando a seres humanos“.

De todos modos, admite que funcionarios del gobierno de EE.UU. evitaron mostrar demasiado entusiasmo con el planteo en reuniones “confidenciales” que mantuvieron con los sindicatos.

FabricaDerechos de autor de la imagenAFP
Image captionLa brecha salarial entre México y EE.UU. se mantuvo abierta con el tratado de libre comercio.

Esta semana concluyó la segunda ronda de conversaciones entre EE.UU., México y Canadá para renegociar el TLCAN, sin anuncios de avances importantes pero con la esperanza intacta de llegar a un acuerdo a fin de año.

Se espera que Washington presente su posición formal sobre el empleo en la tercera ronda de discusiones, cuyo comienzo está marcado para el 23 de septiembre en Ottawa, Canadá.

Quienes siguen de cerca las negociaciones anticipan que la cuestión laboral puede ser un obstáculo difícil.

“México está plantado en contra de negociar sus niveles salariales en las discusiones”, dice a BBC Mundo Pamela Starr, una profesora de relaciones internacionales en la Universidad de Southern California, experta en el vínculo entre EE.UU. y México.

“Sospecho que la posición del gobierno de EE.UU. no coincidirá intencionalmente con la de los sindicatos”, señala, “pero aumentar los niveles salariales en México es una de las cosas que EE.UU. quisiera hacer”.


Pactos Colectivos

Analizamos los pactos colectivos en las distintas instituciones públicas y los cambios que necesitan, para evitar que las finanzas del Estado continúen siendo dilapidadas.


– Marvin Flores (Miembro de acción ciudadana)

– Augusto Valenzuela (Presidente de la asociación iberoamericana de derecho del trabajo y de la seguridad social Guillermo Cabanellas)

– Alejandro Argueta (Abogado laborista)

– Francisco Quezada (Investigador del CIEN)


Guatemala y la ley de empleo parcial

La administración Morales prevé tener listo el próximo mes el primer borrador de la ley que regula el trabajo a tiempo parcial, que deberá quedar aprobado antes de febrero de 2018.

En febrero cobra vigencia en Guatemala el Convenio 175 de la Organización Internacional de Trabajo (OIT) y para esa fecha deberá estar listo el marco legal para implementar el empleo a tiempo parcial.

Guillermo Gándara, viceministro de Administración del Trabajo, dijo a Prensalibre.com que “… ya tienen un primer producto de la propuesta, un análisis comparativo de los países donde se ha implementado este instrumento, especialmente europeos. De acuerdo con el funcionario… han avanzado en temas relacionados con la seguridad social de los empleados, el pleno derecho de la libertad sindical y colectiva, el goce de vacaciones, la protección de la maternidad y el salario.”

“… En ese sentido, Antonio Malouf, presidente del Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras, opinó que los sectores de call centers, servicios, turismo, la industria de empaques y las empresas que elevan su producción en verano, vacaciones y Navidad serían los que más aprovecharían la contratación temporal de personal.”


Piden salario diferenciado para la caficultura

Ricardo Arenas, presidente de Anacafé

Crear un salario mínimo diferenciado es la solicitud del sector cafetalero para enfrentar la crisis que afronta por la escasa producción, efecto de la roya y precios internacionales más bajos que el costo, lo cual lo hace insostenible, dijo Ricardo Arenas, presidente de Anacafé.

Dijo que no entregará una propuesta, pero que ya le explicaron el año pasado al presidente Jimmy Morales el impacto en ese rubro.

Arenas insistió en solicitar que se devuelvan recursos que el gobierno anterior desvió del fideicomiso, por unos Q400 millones.