A panel of labor activists from Colombia and the United States discussed the ongoing violence committed against trade unionists in Colombia. The AFL-CIO also released a report detailing the level of violence in the country, which is the "most dangerous place in the world" for a trade union leader.
Below is a press release drafted by the AFL-CIO discussing the panel and the report.
Today Colombian trade unionists, representatives from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Escuela Nacional Sindical, and the AFL-CIO noted during a panel discussion that the Labor Action Plan (LAP) has failed to stop serious labor and human rights violations in Colombia almost two months after the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement became effective.
Miguel Conde, secretary treasurer of the Puerto Wilches local of Colombian trade union SINTRAINAGRO, who spoke at the panel, explained how the current situation in Colombia makes it difficult to freely associate to bargain for better work conditions. “Due to legal restrictions, intimidation from armed groups and the rise of illegal cooperatives, it’s now easier to form a guerrilla group than a union in Colombia,” he said.
Panel participants also released an AFL-CIO report detailing the specific lack of progress made in Colombia. The report highlighted the steps needed to address LAP’s shortcomings in bringing justice and safety to Colombian trade unionists.
“So far, the LAP has failed to accomplish the goal of cracking down on illegal cooperatives and other forms of subcontracting so that workers can be hired directly by employers and exercise their fundamental rights of freedom of association, organization and collective bargaining,” AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist Celeste Drake said. “Rather than the U.S. or Colombian governments declaring victory, the AFL-CIO urges both governments to commit the considerable resources and intense political will necessary to make the promised changes come to fruition.”
Participants echoed what Colombian unions, NGOs and the international labor movement have already made clear: The LAP has failed to make enough of a positive impact on Colombian labor relations to justify entering into the bilateral trade agreement. However, now that it is in force, those who care about labor rights in Colombia have only one choice: to redouble efforts to make the LAP work. The magnitude of the changes needed mean that implementation will be a multi-year process.
“Presidents Obama and Santos gave multinationals and commercial interests their FTA,” said Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, WOLA Senior Associate for Colombia and the Andes. “They must also fulfill their promise to Colombian workers to fully implement the US-Colombia Labor Action Plan. Stopping violence against trade unionists, justice in the over 2,600 cases of killings of unionists and the full dismantlement of third-party contracting are not just important to Colombia's workers, they are key to a fair economic relationship between the US and Colombia.”
Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Only last year, 30 trade unionists were assassinated for their union activity. Eleven have been killed so far in 2012. Jhonsson Torres, one of the trade unionists who experienced violence firsthand and a founding member of the cane cutters union (Sinalcorteros), shared his story which underscored the lack of protection and the constant violations of human rights, even after the LAP became effective.
“After our two-month strike was able to improve working conditions, the Colombian government charged several of us and our allies with conspiracy and sedition,” Torres stated. “On April 27, our union’s secretary general, Daniel Aguirre, was assassinated. The killers haven’t been found yet. A few months ago, I received death threats. With the trade agreement, the government told us that security and safety would improve. I still fear for my life and the safety of my love ones.”
Drake insisted that the Colombian Ministry of Labor proactively and effectively enforce the LAP without delay.
“The implementation of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement must not be the end of the story on Colombian labor rights, but only the beginning,” she said.
For an electronic copy of the report, contact Luis Santoyo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (202) 637-5018