This post is a warning directed to all blog readers who dream of buying a finca in Argentina.  You're the ones who have contacted me regarding advice and tips for making your expat journey from home base to South America a smooth and easy transition.  You won't hear the following  from the real estate agents that you encounter in Argentina, or from the charming escribano (notary ) who does the transfer of  title.    

Argentina's labour laws are designed to protect the worker.   When you, as a foreigner landowner, employ a worker to help with irrigation, planting, maintenance, harvesting,  or any other job on the farm, you are responsible for ensuring that the worker is registered with the government and is paid the standard minimum wage.  That monthly wage for labour  includes payment for support of his family (a figure based on the number of children), disability  insurance, one extra month of pay per year,  vacation pay and his funeral.  This is called working in "White."  

Many foreign employers opt for payment of workers in "Black" to avoid the hassle of government registration and the inevitable annual increases that are part of the "White" plan.  Some workers insist on " Black" payment  so that they can continue to collect welfare cheques from the government and be employed at the same time.  

Whether you choose to hire in "White" or in "Black", the outcome is the same:  if there is a labour grievance, if you fire your worker, if your worker quits his job, if you sell your finca, you will owe money to your employee.  It doesn't matter how well you treated your worker, how many times you gave him a bonus, or extra pay for weekend hours.  In addition to fair wages, you may have provided  food from your garden to feed his family, or tools and materials from your garage to fix his roof.  You may have bought a motorcycle or car for your worker, or paid for his dental bills.   None of the merits of your performance as an employer, or the deficits in his performance as a worker or the specific terms of your business relationship make a particle of  difference.   As a foreigner, you owe him, and the law will invariably back him up.

Workers receive free legal aid in Argentina, and most (even the illiterate ones)  are intimately familiar with the labour laws.   The disgruntled or displaced worker presents his case to a labour lawyer, and a telegram is sent to his employer, demanding payment.  The employer has to respond to the telegram within two days, otherwise the case is moved up to the next level, requiring an appearance in labour court.  You need to hire a lawyer and be prepared for a long drawn-out process of negotiating a settlement payment with your worker.   It's not fair, or logical, but that's how it's done in Argentina.  

The outrage of a foreign employer who has been ripped off by the system prompts nothing more than a shrug from the Argentineans.  One highly-regarded, well-educated notary in San Rafael responded to my cries of injustice with "Well, you had to pay him in the end, but it wasn't really very much, was it?"   To the Argentines,  this is not a moral issue, it's a matter of degree.   Taking crumbs from the foreigner's table is a fact of life and it's a common practice that is legally endorsed.  

So beware, before you sign the escritura to take  ownership of that lush vineyard, plum orchard or olive grove.    Fincas require workers; workers do not come cheap in Argentina;  they will never be your "friends."      Sooner or later, the telegram will come.   
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