WorldStimulus to the US economy boosts remittances to Latin American countries, but...

Stimulus to the US economy boosts remittances to Latin American countries, but working conditions remain unequal

Two construction workers on June 8, 2020 in New York.BRENDAN MCDERMID (Reuters)

The spending that the US government has made to stimulate its economy is already having a strong impact on Latin American countries, especially Mexico and Central America. Over the past 18 months, since the first check sent by Donald Trump’s Administration to US families to alleviate the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, remittances deposited by family members have broken records in the countries that receive them. Now, a $550 billion infrastructure plan passed in Congress has the potential to re-enter the wallets of many Latin Americans through their emigrant family members.

Authorized federal investments range from building bridges and roads to installing broadband, water and energy systems, for a period of five years. Civil construction professionals —many of whom are of Latin American origin, with or without documents of permanence in the US— will have great job opportunities, especially in the current scenario of labor shortages in the country, according to specialists. And with that, they warn, comes the risks, as there are bad practices like wage theft and wrongful deaths, especially in states like Texas, the second-largest Hispanic population in the US.

“We are talking about one of the biggest economic sectors in Texas, worth trillions of dollars, in which the result, specifically in the economic aspect, does not transfer to the workers”, says Ana González, director of construction policies at the non-governmental organization Fundo de Workers’ Defense Action. “At the same time, construction is one of the most dangerous activities for workers.” Construction is the only sector in Texas that does not require workers’ compensation, a type of insurance that the employer pays to the state to cover medical expenses and a salary in the event of a worker’s absence. One in five construction workers in the state has their wages stolen — something that especially impacts workers in illegal situations — and, of those five workers, three are victims of reprisals, according to González.

“This means that if they are trying to recover their salary, their employer can threaten [denunciar] their migratory status”, observes the specialist. “We see many of these experiences that construction workers are suffering in the State of Texas, in addition to being the state with the most deaths of these workers and where they suffer the most heatstroke. This very basic protection of being able to be in the shade and have a glass of water does not exist”, he says. His organization estimates that 70% of construction workers in Texas are immigrants, with 50% undocumented. “If you are not aware of your rights and do not know that, regardless of your migratory status, you are entitled to receive a minimum wage or what you were promised, it is very difficult to turn to a government instance to defend you,” he says. Gonzalez.

However, the labor protocols and guarantees required in return for federal funding included in President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan are greater than what Texas requires locally, says Karla Walter, director of employment policy at the think tank independent Center for American Progress. “This is really important because it ensures that the wages that contractors are offering cannot undermine the market and pay poverty wages, they cannot break the law,” he says.

A study by this organization reveals that construction workers of Latin American origin experience a 9% to 10% increase in their wages in states with strong labor laws, for example. And the plan, as proposed by the White House, also includes social spending that would benefit, if passed in Congress, millions of working women of Latin American origin, adds Walter.

the plan, called Build Back Better (“rebuild better”), encompasses, in addition to infrastructure works, a huge volume of resources for childcare and domestic workers. “These workers are disproportionately Latino women who are working, who have skills but are paid very low wages, and here there is a real opportunity to push the standards up,” says Walter.

To prevent violations of labor rights, the federal government in Biden has increased resources to strengthen agencies charged with ensuring compliance with the laws, says Walter. “It will undoubtedly be a huge job, as we spend all this money to ensure these standards are met.”

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