Colombia has not fully complied with the Labor Action Plan agreed to with the U.S. in the lead up to the Free Trade Agreement, said U.S. labor union federation AFL-CIO Tuesday.
The report claims the Colombian government “has made little progress in addressing the needs of workers and their unions… many key commitments remain unfulfilled, and workers report no noticeable changes in their ability to exercise fundamental labor rights.”
Workers across the economy, including in the five priority sectors
identified by the Labor Action Plan (palm, sugar, mines, ports and
flowers), continue to experience the following on a regular basis:
- Unwanted indirect employment relationship (both cooperatives
and other forms of sham subcontracting used for core, permanent
work), which prevent workers from exercising their rights to
free association and collective bargaining;
- Unilaterally determined salary and benefit schemes imposed by
employers to dissuade workers from joining a union (“pactos
- Lower pay and benefits and worse working conditions than they
would receive if they were free to organize and bargain; and
- Threats of death and violence against themselves and their
families for attempting to exercise the very rights the
Labor Action Plan aims to protect.
In an interview with Colombia Reports, AFL-CIO representative Celeste Drake emphasized the importance of political agitation as a mechanism for promoting fair industrial relations laws and argued the report provides hope for workers.
Drake refused to give an exact timeline for the changes she hopes will occur in Colombia, however she stressed changes, “cannot be done overnight…as this is a long term issue and needs a multi-year solution.”
In April of 2011, the Colombian and U.S. governments negotiated the “Labor Action Plan”, which was a prerequisite to securing the Free Trade Agreement.
Drake argued that “the point of the report is not to single out individual employers as bad actors—the problem of labor rights in Colombia is pervasive throughout the economy, which is why the AFL-CIO urges workers’ rights advocates to focus on the U.S. and Colombian governments rather than particular corporations.”
Colombia has historically been a dangerous place for unionists and workers’ rights activists. In 2011, at least 76 union workers around the world were killed, with more than half the deaths occurring in Latin America, including 29 in Colombia.
A study by the United Nations Development Programme warned that Colombia has one of the worst rates in the world concerning freedom of association and labor rights, with a record of more than 2,800 killings of trade unionists and members between 1984 and 2011.
The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think-tank, reported 480 acts of violence or intimidation against workers and unionists in 2011, including 29 homicides, and instances of torture, kidnapping, disappearances and forced displacement.
AFL-CIO is an umbrella federation for U.S. unions, with 56 unions representing more than 12 million workers. They also promote workers’ rights abroad. Drake told Colombia Reports that Colombia remains an important commitment for the organization and will continue to document the situation.