Following two weeks of strikes, Colombia judicial workers have succeeded in securing talks with the government about funds to unclog the congested justice system and obtain the funds for necessary operational costs.
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of court cases were suspended each day in Colombia as striking judges, prosecutors and administrative workers have been unable to sit down with the government to talk about the judicial workers’ demands for more funds for the clogged justice system.
Thousands of employees of the judicial branch took to the streets in the country’s largest cities to draw attention to their two-week strike that according to several authorities is further deepening the already-problematic congestion in the system but according to the government are isolated protests.
The judicial workers have been striking to demand more pay, a reduction in bureaucracy in the Prosecutor General’s Office branches, and improved working conditions.
Strike further clogging already clogged justice system
According to Colombian news agency Colprensa, some 150,000 people with pending court cases have been affected by the strike while 30,000 cases were returned to the prosecution as there is no judge to attend a hearing.
On a daily basis, some 600 scheduled court hearings do not take place which has already caused a backlog of 7,000 hearings, Colprensa reported.
While the government is trying to downplay the grief in the judicial sector, high-profile cases that are suspended indicate the strike has much stronger support.
The court case that seeks to clarify the assassination of Liberal Party presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan was suspended until 2015, and cases against former Comptroller General Sandra Morelli and singer Jorge Oñate were unable to even enter the court.
Parties urged to talk
Until Thursday, the national government simply ignored the strike, pretending it wasn’t happening, while claiming the Finance Ministry had been consistently involved in talks with the strikers.
Justice Minister Yesid Reyes told local reporters in the central Tolima state on Thursday that talks between the Finance Ministry and the strikers had been ongoing, which was immediately slammed by high courts.
However, according to judicial workers union Asonal, there has been no response to repeated requests to negotiate since the strike began on October 8.
The president of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, Francisco Javier Ricaurte, subsequently sent “a strong wake-up call to the national government, especially the Finance Ministry, so that they assign the funds allowing the judicial branch to give continuity to the decongestion measures.”
According to Ricaurte, the judicial branch needs an extra $35 million for the decongestion. However, according to judicial workers union Asonal, the sector needs as much as $85 million for this year’s decongestion measures, and $250 million for next year’s operating costs.
Additionally, the union warned for a “chaos of unimaginable proportions” if the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos does not prevent the letting go of thousand of workers of which only a minority will be replaced.
Former Vice President Angelino Garzon also said that talks between the government and strikers were “urgent.”
As public and political pressure mounted, Justice Minister Yesid Reyes met with high court magistrates and Finance Ministry officials on Thursday after which a high court magistrate told RCN Radio that the government and judicial mediators called “on the unions to sit down, to find ways to understanding over the budget for decongestion, as this could be a situation that could be resolved.”
According to newspaper El Espectador, Asonal did not immediately respond to the invitation as it had to study the government proposals for mediation. The newspaper said it is expected the strikers would accept the invitation to the meeting they have been calling for for weeks.
Caracol Radio reported on Friday morning that the first meeting would take place that same day.