November was a month heavily characterised by imposing student and trade union marches in Colombia, and this news item heads our AIL summary this month. The other four news items summarised are:
– CUT National Board decides to hold its 7th Congress in May 2019.
– ILO concurs that Avianca Airline pilots have the right to strike, and it is no reason to lose their jobs.
– Agro trade unions and organisations ask to be taken into account in law “to dignify rural labour”.
– The Brazil of Bolsonaro as viewed by a Brazilian sociologist.
November was a Month Heavily Characterised by Imposing Student and Trade Union Marches in Colombia
Under the leadership of a robust student movement crowding Colombia’s streets demanding public policies to ensure higher-education funding, November was witness to mass civil struggles in Colombia Trade unions and other social forces came out and marched against the regressive tax reform under discussion by Congress alongside the student movement. The country’s teachers, affiliated to Fecode union, also joined the mobilisations held throughout the country in order to defend public education and pressure the Administration into fulfilling an Agreement undersigned in 2017.
As a result of these mobilisations, which were supported by trade unions CUT, CGT, CTC and the Democratic Confederation of Pensioners, the Administration and Congress desisted from raising VAT taxes 18% for basic foodstuff, due to its effects on workers and the middle class. However, universities and student continue marching as the government refuses to consider allocating more budget to public universities.
The central trade union confederations, unified in the so-called National Unitarian Command (Comando Nacional Unitario), considered convoking a national strike in mid-December, but they postponed this call to wait and see how events develop, and for the Christmas season to be over. Christmas is not a good time for strikes.
For us the tax reform proposed makes no sense and it is unwarranted. We have no other recourse but to join social mobilisations in response to the government´s aggressive economic team, pointed out Julio Roberto Gómez, President of CGT.
In a joint statement, CUT and Fecode declared the proposed tax reform to be “monstrous”: the Duque Administration “wants to put into practice the logic of charging less taxes to the rich and more taxes to the poor. This makes social mobilisation essential to stop the assault on the pockets of the majority of Colombians”.
Miguel Morantes, CTC President, affirms: “We have reactivated the National Unitarian Command in order to confront this difficult national crisis. The proposed tax reform is an attack against the country’s economy, which is still recovering from the 2016 tax reform. We are making an appeal to mobilise. This reform cannot be approved”.
CUT to Hold 7th National Congress Next May
The Unitarian Workers Union (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT) has announced it will hold its 7th National Congress in Bogota on May 7, 8 and 9. This important decision was taken during its last National Board meeting, held on the third week of November.
The National Board also placed other key issues on its 2019 agenda, such as approving a political declaration ratifying its opposition to President Duque´s Administration, and reconfirming its call for the struggle and mobilisation of workers in Colombia, as well as for a great convergence of social, political and student forces, to make the struggle of alternative forces now active on the national plane more effective.
Another point defining the National Board has to do with the strategy and guidelines to be included in the petition plea that State trade unions shall put forth at the beginning of 2019. Among other things, its plea will address an increase in salaries among public servants, decide key issues dealing with administrative career paths and staff considered temporary, only there are public servants who have worked15 and 20 years even and continue to be classified as ‘temporary staff’. The plea describes this as ‘an abomination’.
Regarding the first 100 days in office of President Duque, the new CUT President Diógenes Orjuela declared: “This government continues to run errands for imperialism, and drafting its program steeped in ex-President Uribe’s policies. With an aggravating factor to emphasise: right now President Duque is backed by a coalition of parties which had somehow disagreed with President Santos’ mandate and are now closely allied to President Duque”.
ILO Concurs that Avianca Pilots Did Have the Right to Strike And Not Lose Jobs as a Result
The ILO has issued a technical concept ratifying that air transportation is not an essential public service, and therefore pilots at Avianca Airlines have the right to strike; that the procedure they voted for complied with ILO guidelines and previously obtained the votes required, all of which means that firing pilots or penalising them, like Avianca Airlines did, is unjustified.
Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice declared illegal the strike Avianca pilots carried out at the end of 2017, which was headed by the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (Asociación Colombiana de Aviadores Civiles ACDAC). The Supreme Court argued that air transportation is an essential public service, and that the number of votes authorising the strike were not cast in compliance with the conditions required.
In ILO’s judgement, air transportation of passengers and freight is not an essential public service, but “a public service of transcendental importance”. Thus holding a strike “is a legitimate right in which workers and their organisations can incur to defend their economic and social rights”. “In the airport sector” –ILO adds– “only air traffic control can be considered an essential public service”.
The strike at Avianca was approved by 699 out of ACDAC’s 702 pilots, yet the Supreme Court considered that in order for the strike to be legal, more than half of Avianca’s total work force of 8.540 had to vote, an amount that ILO has judged to be excessive. “It would make it excessively difficult to ever call a strike” according to the principles of trade union liberties. A strike at local branches of Avianca Airlines can be approved by votes cast at an assembly of a local branch, if the reason for the strike is of a local nature.
The other argument ILO affirms is that no one should be penalised for carrying out or attempting to carry out a strike. “Workers and their organisations should be free to resort to striking as a legitimate way to defend their economic and social interests without being the object of anti-trade union retaliation measures”. Nevertheless Avianca fired 107 of the pilots taking part in the strike and fined 109.
According to Diógenes Orjuela, President of CUT, the trade union organisation that petitioned ILO in early 2018 to give its judgement on the aspects discussed above, it is not Avianca but the Colombian Administration which now has to respond before the ILO for its behaviour in response to the Avianca strike, and the Supreme Court magistrates who declared the strike illegal are to correct their erroneous sentence.
Agro Trade Unions and Organisations Ask to be Considered in Law on “Dignification of Rural Labour”
At a public audience carried out before the Senate, workers in rural trade unions and organisations posed deep objections to the proposal regarding a Law meant to “Dignify rural labour”, arguing that it carries negative implications for labour and pensions.
On behalf of civil society there were representatives of CUT, CTC, OIT, FESCOL Foundation, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Fund, Fensuagro, Sintraimagra, Sintrainagro and Peasant Women of Sierra Nevada, among others.
One concern of the spokespeople of these organisations is that rural workers did not participate in the project discussion. As to its contents, they state that establishing salary levels below those of the minimum wage opens the door to outsourcing and unstable working conditions, and blocks association and collective negotiation rights. To top it all, it goes against Decent Work agreements set by the ILO.
CUT criticises how the current Administration is handling informal labour issues in the countryside. Overcoming these difficulties warrants laws and programmes that increase agro and livestock production throughout the country, which at present imports one million tons of food a year. This would generate between 4 and 5 million formal jobs, and allow a rise in wages that would offer greater purchasing capacity.
For Victoria Sandino, Senator for the party created by the prior FARC guerrilla, these problems can be overcome if Point One of the Peace Accords on social protection and labour formalisation in the rural area is really implemented. She suggests it would be convenient to articulate the law proposal under debate with other drafts proposed by FARC, UP and Polo political parties over a reform of the pension system.
The spokesperson for Sintrainagro expressed his fear that agroindustries which have workers protected under collective conventions at present, can make use of the tools this intended Law contemplates to make labour conditions more vulnerable for workers, reducing their affiliation to trade unions and their access to collective negotiations even more.
“While the issue of land tenure is not tackled, land which people have taken via carrying out murders, these proposals are useless”, said the spokesperson for the National Association of Peasant Users (Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos).
The Brazil of Bolsonaro, from the Point of View Of a Brazilian Sociologist
On the coming January 1, Yair Bolsonaro, ultra-right leader, will govern the largest and more developed country in Latin America. To explore what this means, the National Information Agency spoke with Brazilian sociologist Vinicius Sartorato, M.A. in labour and globalisation policies.
Sartorato attributes the triumph of Bolsonaro to the loss of belief in traditional parties and State institutions, plus the polarisation regarding the Party of Workers. This created a gap which Bolsanaro jumped in to fill with voters from the ultra-right, more moderate right ones and citizens who simply disagreed with how this labour party handled itself.
Regarding the support of the military for Bolsonaro, it is significant, being that the incoming President was himself a Captain in the Army. But he does not count on unanimous support. “It is a complex issue in a country which has incorporated the perspective of democracy, and his government will have to interact with civil society, social movements, trade unions etc. That’s one concern”, stated the sociologist.
Regarding what Brazil has in the offing, among other things, there is bound to be a more authoritarian and less democratic regime than before. In the economic field, support in Parliament for Bolsonaro will stem from large landowners, the arms industry and bankers. Thus his economic policies will favour employers rather than workers, which will have effects on such matters as pension reform and labour relations.
“Brazil needs to tackle questions such as poverty, social development, and key issues like basic sanitation, housing and nutrition, and those don´t seem likely to be priorities for this government. What can be observed is the likelihood of an elitist economic policy, which will not have as its platform income redistribution”, stated Sartorato.
The sociologist added that Bolsonaro is also bound to be a destabilising factor in the whole region. There is talk of a possible armed intervention of Venezuela, in association with the United States. Bolsonaro also questions the Paris Agreement of Climate Change and threatens to liquidate the current Ministry of the Environment.
With regard to his ultra-conservative leanings, and his involvement with Protestant churches, the rights of minorities are also bound to generate conflicts. The UN, through Michelle Bachelet, says it is examining specific matters such as women, homosexuals and indigenous peoples. Concern about democracy itself is also running high.