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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Comments

Martin
01/29/2011 12:30

I understand your anger, but this is not something that happens to foreigners only: it is the same for argentine land owners.
The best solution is trying to find a company, which manages the finca and takes care of everything related to the workers. Probably more expensive, but by far less troublesome.

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Elizabeth V.
01/29/2011 17:43

Thanks for your comment, but I have to advise readers that simply employing a finca manager will not protect the landowner from legal problems involving workers. We have had three property managers so far. Our lawyer states that if a worker is on your property, you, as landowner, are ulitmately responsible for any issues related to that individual's employment and welfare. Issues may also be inherited from the previous owner's employees when you take over the title. Shortly after we bought our vineyard, the previous owner's employees filed a claim for more pay, and we were held responsible for a debt that had absolutely nothing to do with us. In their written grievance, the workers made it clear that they would never go after their previous boss (a well-to-do Argentine man) who walked away from the messy situation which he had created, money in hand. So don't assume that rules apply equally for Argentine and foreign finca owners. On paper, perhaps, but in practice the foreigner is discriminated against.

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Francisco
02/27/2011 08:55

Argentina is not your place if you are thinking of exploiting people.Try Colombia or Haiti instead...

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Gabriel
03/11/2011 17:54

I truly don't understand what do you mean with foreigners being discriminated against. What you're describing happens every day to every business owner, no matter how small the business is, no matter *who* is the owner. In fact, I'm tired of hearing complains from my small business owners' friends (bakeries, cleaning, etc, all argentinian) who have to pay unfair settlements to fired employees (whatever the cause, usually lazy, non committing people.. sometimes thieves too). Oh, BTW, it's not the same to hire in "black" than "white"... you forgot to mention that one of the options is illegal. The "black" employee can sue you big time for precisely hiring him/her illegally and that could cost you much more. Anyways, I could write pages but I think the bottom-line is that this screwed-up system results from amateur attempts to circumvent the feudal regime that was (is?) the norm in this country.

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