Summary for the Month of May 2019

Among the news items and interviews that the ENS information agency issued on this month of May, we are highlighting the following 5 that we consider the most relevant:

Lea el resumen en español aquí

– Convergence for peace and against President Duque´s policies, Final declaration read at VII CUT Congress.

– Salary increase of 4.5% and increase in State staffing, main achievements of negotiations by trade unions, State federations and the Administration.

– Social and community-centred grassroots most affected by violence in 2018. CINEP Report.

– Colombia stopped creating 1´200.000 jobs in the 7 years of its Free-Trade Agreement with the United States.

– Wiretapping demonstrates arbitrary way that Avianca Airlines handled pilot strike.

May 16

Convergence for peace and against President Duque’s olicies: Final declaration concluding VII CUT Congress

Abounding in enthusiasm and with a large attendance (1000 official delegates and 200 fraternal ones), during the first week of May the VII National Congress of the Unitary Workers Confederation CUT took place in Bogota. Simultaneously, a Women’s Congress, Youth’s Congress, and an International Peace Forum were held, with the presence of national and international lecturers.

Apart from undertaking an analysis of the country’s current political, economic and labour conditions, the VII Congress tackled statutory, financial and administrative aspects pertaining to the organisation, reasserting as the priorities of its struggle labour outsourcing, anti-trade union violence, the defence of the right to association, and the implementation of a labour model other than the Neo-Liberal one, which has already inflicted so much damage in Colombia.

In its final political statemen, CUT urges Colombian citizens to gather together and confront President Duque’s policies, as well as to express their opinion in the upcoming October 27 regional elections. CUT ratified that its Unitarian National Command is the space for action of trade-union federations, as well as for other social movements and organisations to join CUT in its critical vision of the Duque Administration and the Neo-Liberal development model it defends.

Likewise, CUT expresses its support for the Peace Accords and for the continuation of  peace negotiations with the ELN guerrilla; it condemns the ongoing systematic murders of social leaders, trade union activists and human rights defenders; it claims the right to self-determination  of indigenous peoples and condemns U.S. interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, with the complicity of President Duque’s Administration.

CUT reasserted itself during its VII Congress as a labour federation structured around sectorial trade unions, advocating cohesion processes among trade unions in order to advance the goal of having more trade union affiliates and less trade unions.  

As a measure designed to increase CUT participation among smaller trade unions, the Congress reduced the number of affiliates demanded from any given union in order to participate in the CUT agenda. Lively debate ensued around the so-called “law of quotas”, regarding more female and young people presence in its executive body. With respect to women, for example, there are only 2 women among the 21 members in the National Executive Committee; that is, less than 10%. The Women’s Congress advocated for this committee to have a mandatory 20% female quota. Regardless of the expectations created, however, the proposal was defeated during the final vote.

We lost, but it is still important for such debates to take place. They indicate that women are addressing the Central Committee as subjects of labour and political rights”, said Rosa América Peñalosa, leader of Antioquia’s Sub-Regional Office.

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May 24

Salary increase of 4.5% and increase in staffing, main achievements of negotiation with state

There are 1.2 million civil servants who will have a wage increase of 4.5%, which means1.32% above the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The measure was well received, being that for the past 16 years, the increase had never been above 1% of CPI.

This was the salient point of the Agreement between the Administration, the main trade unions and State trade unions after two months of negotiations. But it was not the only important point. The Agreement also includes promoting a law designed to increase the number of permanent staffing in public enterprises, potentially to benefit 400.000 civil servants working under contracts or outsourcing. Advances were also made regarding career upgrading, trade-union liberties and sectorial agreements, among others.

For Juan Diego Gómez, Coordinator of Public Services International (PSI) in Colombia, acting as consultant during the negotiations, his Agreement is more specific than previous ones, recognising the Administration’s open attitude at the negotiations table.

The increase in civil staffing is the most important issue, politically speaking, says Francisco Maltés, responsible for State-related issues at CUT. He quoted a recent report by the National General Auditing Office (Auditoría General de la Nación), stating that there are one million civil servants sub-contracted by State agencies, 464.000 at Town and Governor Halls, and the rest in the central Administration.  

According to the recent Agreement, State agencies and trade unions should make a joint study of their staff and of the posts they fill, in order to verify which jobs are mission posts, and which are permanent in character. In the latter case, people should be transferred to the permanent Staff.  

On behalf of CGT, another main trade-union federation, Julio Roberto Gómez highlighted the fact that labour informality in the public sector was broached in-depth. He mentioned the absurdities existing at SENA, the National Trade Teaching Unit, for example, where 30.000 subcontracted workers carry out permanent mission functions. “It is an issue requiring a lot of political will, since it is Congress which must approve the law recommended”, he added.

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May 17

Social and community grassroots most affected by violence in 2018, cites CINEP Report

The Centre of Popular Investigation and Education (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular CINEP) issued its annual report on the situation of human rights in the country. The title of this 2018 edition is “Camouflaged Violence. Social Grassroots at Risk”.

The CINEP report raises the alarm around the new dynamics of political violence in Colombia, at present mainly affecting social grassroots community processes and organisations (leaders and members of Community Action Boards and civic leaders). It points out that behind these aggressions lie new victimisation methodologies, intentionally seeking to perpetuate impunity.

These conclusions result from the analysis of 1.418 cases registered in 2018. In 195 cases, perpetrators of human-rights abuses were labelled as unknown, while perpetrators in 139 cases were labelled as armed or hooded men. The figures add up to 334 cases, directly linked to impunity. To these are to be added 562 labelled without information.

The cases studied include human-rights violations against trade union members and their rights, mainly individual and collective threats issued in the form of pamphlets, telephone calls and text messages claiming that the victims of these threats are terrorists and military objectives, undersigned by illegal armed groups such as the “Águilas Negras” (Black Eagles) and the “Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia” (Gaitanian Self-Defenses of Colombia). The report highlighted cases currently taking place in Colombia’s Southwest region.

May 21

Colombia has stopped creating 1´200.000 jobs in 7 years of FTA with the United States

 This last May, Colombia’s Free-Trade Agreement with the United States reached its seventh year, an occasion which led Cedetrabajo, an NGO dedicated to labour studies, to prepare a report dealing with the FTA. This report was presented at an event attended by trade-union federations, entrepreneurial associations and members of Congress.

The study compares the 7 years in which the FTA has been in effect, with the 7 years prior to it, based on official statistics, contrasting, however, with those quoted by the government when presenting its balances. Cedetrabajo found 7 disadvantages for the country, as a result of the implementation of its FTA with the United States:

– Colombian exports fell by 51.3%: they went from USD 21.833 million to USD 10.641 million; 64.3% of exports continue to be traditional products.

– At present, 707 shipments are exported to the United States, 66 less than in 2004, when there was no FTA.

– Between 2015 and 2018, goods imported to Colombia from the United States, which compete with national production and cut Colombian jobs, went from 19% to 28.2%.

– Colombia sells to the United States products with an average value of USD 437 per ton, while goods sold by the United States to Colombia have an average value of USD 1670 per ton; that is, 3.8 times higher.

– During the last 7 years, the Colombian economy grew an annual average of 3.2%. During the 7 years before, it grew at an annual average of 5%.

– Colombia created 2´969.000 new jobs before the FTA came into effect; in the last 7 years, with the FTA in place, it only created 1´767.000; that is to say, it generated 1´202.000 less new jobs, and as a result worker remuneration only grew by 1.4%.

“And the response of the President Duque Administration is more of the same”, pointed out Alfredo Castellanos from Acopi Bogotá-Cundinamarca, an association of small and medium-scale entrepreneurs attending the event.

May 14

Wiretapping shows arbitrary way Avianca Airlines handled pilot strike

It has come to be known that Eduardo Mendoza, Avianca’s Security and Observance Vice-President, has been called by the Public Prosecutor’s Office to give a statement regarding the ongoing investigation into the illegal wiretapping of ACDAC, the pilots trade union in Avianca, wiretapping which took place on the occasion of the pilot strike held towards the end of 2017. 

The revelations now known demonstrate the arbitrary way in which Avianca handled the strike called by its pilots”, affirmed Diógenes Orjuela, President of CUT, the trade union confederation which accompanied ACDAC’s struggle and has denounced the case on an international scale.

Eduardo Mendoza became famous in 1992 when, as Vice-Minister of Justice, he was in held responsible for handling Pablo Escobar’s escape from the Cathedral Prison, which eventually cost Mendoza his job. He is the airline’s highest-ranking public servant to be called in for questioning by the Public Prosecutor, asked to provide explanations about illegally wiretapping pilots carrying out the strike. Mendoza is closely associated to Germán Efromovich, Avianca’s main stockholder.

Ana María Ceballos, Lawsuits Manager at Avianca Airlines, is another high-ranking public servant called in for questioning by the Public Prosecutor.

In days past the Prosecutor’s Office had arrested Fabio Martínez Lugo, Number 32 Prosecutor in Avianca’s top staff against criminal organisations, who appears to have provided information to the authorities about employees allegedly involved in the wiretappings or “chuzadas” among ACDAC trade-union members. In similar fashion Luis Gómez Góngora, ex civil servant of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in charge of coordinating wiretapping installations, had also been arrested. He admitted the charges made against him.

“It is being proved that there were actions taken clearly designed to affect and eliminate the trade union of pilots, which in any other country in the world would give cause for scandal and merit government action. Yet here the government is letting Avianca get away with all the irregularities it incurred in”, stated Diógenes Orjuela from CUT.

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