Workers' rights groups have described Peru's legislation covering non-traditional exports as "unconstitutional" and "in breach of international labour standards".

Law DL 22342, which governs non-traditional exports, allows garment export companies to hire workers under short-term contracts to fill specific export orders. This means that a worker employed this month to fill a production order for a multinational garment brand has no guarantee of being kept on next month to work on a similar order for the same buyer.

In a letter to Peruvian president President Ollanta Humala, the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) and a number of other trade groups urged moves to repeal the law.

"This level of flexibility in a thriving industry is frankly obscene", says Klaus Priegnitz, general secretary of the ITGLWF.

"In reality the term ‘non traditional' is a complete misnomer. Thirty years ago, when orders were irregular and exporting companies were just finding their feet, ‘non traditional' might have been an apt description of the emerging garment export sector.

"But today, the situation could not be more different. The sector has grown exponentially as a result of the free trade agreement with the US, making textiles and clothing one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy.

"In the meantime, the average wages of workers in the largest and most profitable textile companies in the sector are among the lowest in the country. Wages are so low that workers and their families are often forced to live with relatives, and when they can't work double shifts many have to supplement their income by working as street vendors."

Priegnitz said the largest companies are the worst offenders, in some cases employing 100% of the workforce on short-term contracts, even though these workers perform permanent functions in the factory. Some workers have worked for the same employer for nearly 20 years on a succession of one to six month contracts.

"Leading manufacturers claim they will not be able to survive in the global export market without the privileges accorded to them under DL 22342. That's because they have grown accustomed to receiving an indirect subsidy from their workers in the form of low wages and poor working conditions.

"Employers should instead embrace decent work as the key to improved productivity, quality and profitability through a stable, well-trained and motivated workforce."