Colombian and international trade unionists condemned violence against
workers in the Latin American country on Friday and said the government
was not doing enough to stop it.
A committee of experts at the International Labour Organisation had
reported that Colombia was making progress, but worker representatives
at the United Nations agency’s committee on labour standards disagreed.
“Because of the continuing violence one cannot speak of progress in
comparison with the situation in other countries. Too much still
remains to be done,” said Luc Cortebeck, president of the Belgian CSC
union and spokesman for the workers’ group on the ILO labour standards
Violence was committed with impunity, with 96 percent of cases of violence against unionists going unpunished, he said.
The debate at the ILO, a U.N. forum grouping governments, employers and
workers to promote good working conditions, is important because a
U.S.-Colombia free-trade pact is held up in the U.S. Congress where
some Democrats want Bogota to do more to end violence against labour
Indeed, the U.S. government representative acknowledged
initial steps by the Colombian authorities, but said the situation for
Colombian unions remained extremely serious.
“Violence — and
fear of violence — must be eradicated so that workers and employers
organisations can exercise their activities in full freedom,” she told
Colombia says much remains to be done but says it has acted under
President Alvaro Uribe to improve security for labour activist as part
of broader efforts to stabilise the country after a protracted civil
Vice-Minister for Labour Relations Ana Lucia Noguera
repeated those arguments to the ILO, saying that killings of union
members had fallen 81 percent in the last seven years, against a 44
percent drop in general homicides.
The government has increased
protection for labour activists, and increased the number of
prosecutors working on violence against union members to end impunity
for such crimes.
But unions say the number of members killed
jumped 25 percent in 2008 from 2007 to 49 from 39 and say efforts to
prosecute murders and other anti-union violence are flagging.
So far this year 14 union members have been killed according to government figures, or 17 according to union figures.
“In 2009 Colombia remains the most dangerous place on the face of this
planet for workers, accounting for more than 60 percent of all
assassinations of trade unionists in the world,” said Stanley Gacek, a
U.S. workers’ representative on the committee.
The climate of
fear fed by killings, abductions and other violence meant only 4
percent of Colombia’s 18 million workers are union members, and only
1.2 percent have been able to negotiate their working conditions,
according to Tarsicio Mora Godoy, president of the Colombia United
Workers Federation CUT.
He said part of the problem was the government tended to associate unions with leftist guerrillas.
“Trade unions continue to be the enemy of the state and of companies,” he told the committee.
To loud applause from workers’ representatives in the committee room
and labour activists in the public gallery he called on the government
to confirm the legality of unions, end the violence and compensate
Colombian ambassador Angelino Garzon then told the committee the government would soon launch a $50 million fund for victims.
Employers’ representatives praised Colombia at the committee for what it had done so far to end violence.
“This is not a case where the government has done nothing. In fact it’s
done quiet a lot in the last decade,” said Edward Potter, spokesman for
the employers’ group on the committee. (Reuters)