Colombian union members condemned the European Union’s endorsement of a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia Tuesday, citing violence against labor unionists in the country.
Carlos Olaya Rodriguez and Jorge Mejia Diez from the National Union of Agri-food Workers of Colombia met European parliament members Paul Murphy (Ireland) and Willy Meyer (Spain) from the European United Left who reiterated their opposition to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and Colombia.
The agreement, which will eliminate some tariffs and widen market access, was approved by European countries despite earlier concerns about Colombia’s appalling workers’ rights record.
The contract contains a clause for the protection of human rights, but Colombian unions and several European political groups argue Colombia has failed to meet the required standards.
Olaya Rodriguez said that so far this year two Colombian union leaders have been killed and there continue to be threats to union members. Rodriguez also condemned the ongoing impunity for those who attack unionists, saying “nothing is changing in Colombia, worker organizations will disappear.”
However Olaya Rodriguez sees the FTA as an opportunity to raise awareness and address the violence against unionists. “The Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Colombia should be used as a positive tool to talk about the abuses and crimes,” he said during the meeting.
Mejia Diez highlighted a UN Development Agency report which recognized “the systematic anti-union violence in Colombia,” describing it as a “serious human rights violation.”
Spanish parliament member Willy Meyer showed his solidarity with the Colombian unions and expressed his refusal to support the FTA, saying “in Colombia there are many social inequalities and the agreement just makes the situation worse.”
The agreement is awaiting ratification from the union’s national parliament, but is expected to go into effect in September.
A similar FTA between the United States and Colombia is intended to be finalized by the end of the Summit of the Americas that will be held in Colombia April 14 and 15.