Five representatives from the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Colombia’s Labor Minister, Rafael Pardo, to ask about the country’s overall progress in meeting the requirements of the labor action plan, an agreement targeted at protecting workers’ rights in the Andean nation on Tuesday.
The Labor Action Plan, signed in April 2011 stipulated that Colombia take measures against the threatening and killing of unionists, prosecute those suspected of violating workers’ rights, and combat the exploitation of laborers. The agreement allowed for the U.S. Congress to approve the FTA, the passage of which has been delayed since 2006 over human and labor rights concerns.
The letter was sent in response to reports that U.S. President Barack Obama will announce at the Summit of the Americas that Colombia has done enough to promote workers’ rights to put the FTA into effect, a move that will halt progress on labor rights according to critics in both countries.
The legislators- George Miller, D- Calif; Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine; Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn; James P. McGovern, D-Mass.; and Henry C. Johnson, D-Ga. – asked about the Colombian government’s response to specific abuses and prosecution for labor rights abusers.
The document highlights incidents such as a Union Sindical Obrero (USO) strike at Pacific Rubiales Energy that was “broken after the labor encampment was raided, and armed government forces assisted the company in blockading roads.” It goes on to say that more than 1,000 workers affiliated with USO were fired and “reportedly driven out of the labor camps at gunpoint.”
The authors then ask, “What is being done to assure that workers’ freedom of association is being respected?
With regards to the country’s 94% impunity rate for trade violence — 30 unionists were murdered in 2011 across the country and another four in 2012, none of which resulted in a prosecution — the letter states that “there appears to be little in the way of progress in these cases, and trade unionists continue to be threatened and murdered.”
In a White House news briefing on Wednesday, Dan Restrepo, Obama’s Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere, praised the Andean nation’s progress saying, “the Colombian government has taken a number of very important steps to improve labor rights and labor protections in Colombia.”
He added, “The labor action plan is something that we have been, are, and will continue to be working on implementing with the Colombian government.”
On Thursday nine members of the Colombian Congress also wrote President Obama a letter asking the U.S. leader “explicitly not to take any measure to certify Colombia on labor matters until full compliance to existing bilateral agreements.”
President’s Obama and Santos will meet on Sunday afternoon at the close of the Summit to discuss bi-lateral relations between the two countries.
“My hope is that we can announce a specific date to put the FTA in effect, which we have been waiting 20 years for,” said the Colombian leader.