Summary for the Months of January and February 2019

Here you will find a summary of the 5 news items we consider most relevant among the news items and special reports issued by ENS during January and February 2019.

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– 170 social and trade union organisations convoke national strike on April 25.

– The National Development Plan: welcome to the past and to lagging behind, by ENS.

– Reasons why President Duque should not object Statutory Law of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción especial para la paz JEP).

– USO affirms national mobilisation should stop sale of 8.9% share of Ecopetrol.

– Teachers affiliated to FECODE file bargain plea during 24-hour strike.

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February 21

170 Social and Trade Union Organisations Convoke National Strike on April 25

Representatives of 170 Colombian social and trade union organisations have jointly called to hold a National Strike next April 25, in order to protest against the economic and social policies of the current President Duque Administration, the series of murders of social leaders, the lack of compliance with the 2016 Peace Accords between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, the cancelling of peace negotiations between the government and the ELN guerrilla, as well as to oppose the National Development Plan currently under discussion in Congress.

 “The strike has a political nature and it will be carried out in the defence of life, peace, democracy, our environment and the labour rights of all Colombians. It is to take place throughout the whole country”, its organisers have announced in their press release.

The decision to hold a National Strike was reached at an Encounter of Social and Political Organisations, held in Bogota between February 9 and 10. The meeting was attended by 380 social leaders and national, regional and sectorial staff from 170 organisations of various sorts: social, trade union, peasant, indigenous, women, alternative politicians, Afro-descendants, students, teachers, environmentalists, victims of the armed conflict and human-rights organisations.

CUT is one of the three main trade union organisations convoking the strike. Its President, Diogenes Orjuela, announced that CUT will release a statement with its conclusions about the strike in the coming days. He observed that CUT will seek convergence with the rest of the trade union movement, within the framework of the Unitarian National Command (Comando Nacional Unitario), in order to prepare and promote the National Strike and its contingencies.

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February 22

National Development Plan: Welcome to the Past and to Lagging Behind

President Ivan Duque’s Administration has presented its National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo PND 2018-2022) to Congress, amidst a flood of criticisms coming from different directions. Among those opposing the plan is the National Trade Union School (Escuela Nacional Sindical ENS), which considers this plan a synthesis of all that characterises the current government: improvisation, lack of experience, lack of State vision, emphasis on war and revenge. It is a plan that, in short, robs from the poor to give more to the rich.

For Alberto Orgulloso, ENS Director, President Duque’s PND is “a patch quilt favouring the interests of enterprises, capital, and political and economic elites. In contrast, it dismantles existing social and civil rights, reinforcing an extractive economic model, promoting the concentration of wealth, income and political power. The PND also declares a war against the Peace Accords”.

On the other hand, the PND lacks any labour rights approach, nor is it committed to Decent Work, social justice and human rights. “It proposes simulations, tainted with ideological hues partial to the global new right-wing wave. It is a declaration of war against workers and the trade union movement”, ENS points out.

ENS adds that workers and the marginalised sector of society shall be left more vulnerable and exposed as a result of the new PND, since it promotes labour contracts per hour, payment into the social security system also based on hour contracts, and a greater tax burden on self-standing workers. Likewise, the Administration will attempt to transform workers into “owners of start-ups” or “entrepreneurs”, which in reality will be nothing more than camouflaged employment under unstable or individual conditions, such as work as Uber drivers, in virtual platforms, etc.

Workers, trade unionists, farmers, popular sectors, human-rights victims and defenders, are meant to be dismantled of their constitutional rights and the labour rights consigned by the ILO, which the State is obligated to follow, and will also disregard international labour agreements already included in the Free Trade Agreements and the OCDE.

Finally, in its evaluation of the proposed PND, ENS points out that the Duque Administration is invading trade union freedoms, and intends to impose, in one blow, a labour and trade union reform “adopting the measures needed to regulate multi-affiliation and trade union fragmentation”. Plainly this is unconstitutional, as the Duque Administration proposes its National Plan to implement such a change, though legally it is already established that these types of changes must be reached taking the trade union movement into account.

The CUT and CTC trade union confederations, in association with the Labour and Trade Union Platform, have programmed a series of 13 to discuss the PND among workers, trade union leaders and experts throughout the country.

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February 25

Reasons Why Duque Should Not Raise Objections to the JEP

President Duque has a deadline until March 11 to either sign or make objections to the Statutory Law of the Special Peace Jurisdiction (Ley Estatutaria de la Justicia Especial Para la Paz JEP). The guidelines contemplated in said law were already the subject of discussion during 8 Congress sessions, in which various sectors of society were able to express their points of view. The Constitutional Court ruled over these proceedings and, after thorough analysis, it issued Sentence C-080 of 2018, declaring the law constitutional after recommending a few modifications.

Yet controversy around this law has recently emerged, from political movements and sectors exerting pressure on President Duque to reject the law. Among these are ex-President and Senator Alvaro Uribe, and National Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez. Thousands of victims are depending on the President to sign the law, joined by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, which advocate that Duque signs the JEP and thus provides jurisdictional security to the Special Peace Jurisdiction.

Furthermore, over 200 social organisations and a number of victims have sent President Duque a letter asking him to approve the Statutory JEP law, in order not to affect the rights and guarantees fundamentally due to victims of the armed conflict. They insist that objecting to signing the JEP would promote impunity in the country, severely compromising Colombia’s commitment to supporting the ongoing peace process. 

Ana Maria Amado, ENS Director of the Human Rights Defence area (ENS has signed the letter), considers that access to justice is a human right, as is already stipulated in the various international treaties Colombia has previously undersigned. This human right would be affected if the JEP is objected to. It would especially affect the rights of victims of the armed conflict, and victims were placed at the centre of the Peace Accords between Colombia and the FARC. “It would be an attack launched against the whole peace system, including the Truth Commission and the Unit for the Search of the Disappeared (Unidad de Búsqueda de personas Desaparecidas)”, observes Amado.

Amado alluded to the over 14.000 trade unionists victims of violence throughout the country. Violence has been unleashed upon 487 social organisations, and its victims are bent on finding justice, truth and reparation.

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January 24

National Mobilisation Should Stop Sale of 8.9% of Ecopetrol, says USO

In spite of the fact that President Duque stated last September that his Administration was not contemplating the sale of any further Ecopetrol shares, Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla just announced that the government is hoping to sell 8,9% of its shares in the national company, representing 346 million dollars.

Without having heard President Duque directly comment on what his Finance Minister announced, the mere announcement has generated controversy. The new President of Workers Trade Union USO, Edwin Palma Egea, considers that this measure would further advance the dismemberment of Ecopetrol, Colombia’s most important asset. This would be done for the purpose of filling in the fiscal gap that the tax reform approved by Congress did not manage to solve.

The sale of these shares, Palma added, will make a dent on the National Treasury Department, which will lose nearly a thousand million pesos in dividends and royalties no longer received. “While large enterprises will be exempt from paying more taxes, ordinary people will have to pay more taxes to cover this deficit”, highlighted Palma.

This is why defending the integrity of Ecopetrol as a public asset will remain on the trade union agenda for a national mobilisation, stated USO’s Board of Directors in a statement it issued, calling for a show of all the country’s living forces, social and political organisations, to mobilise in defence of Ecopetrol, a company that contributes 420 million dollars a year to the country’s national profits.

It is to be remembered that Law 1118 of 2006, approved during the Administration of Álvaro Uribe, head of President Duque´s Democratic Centre party, authorised Ecopetrol to sell out 20% of its shares among natural citizens and institutional investors. Until now 11.1% has been sold out and it is the remaining 8.9% which are now at stake.

Edwin Palma explained that the sale of this share packet would not directly affect workers of Ecopetrol as such, given that the legal nature of the company will not change, and a collective convention was undersigned four and a half years ago. “It will be Colombians in general who will lose out from this sale”, he stressed.

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February 12

Teachers Affiliated to Teachers Trade Union FECODE File Bargain Plea during 24 Hour Strike

Opposition to the National Development Plan presented by the Duque Administration, the stream of threats and systematic murders among social leaders, a growing crisis in the teachers’ health system, and the demand for a Constitutional Reform of the General System of Participations, among others, are the reasons that moved over 300.000 teachers to hold a 24-hour strike on February 14, which included mass mobilisations in the country’s main cities.

Within the framework of this strike and these mobilisations, FECODE filed regional plea bargains and a National Teachers Plea before the Duque Administration. It will be the first teachers’ plea that the recent government is to negotiate.

Nelson Alarcon, President of FECODE, a trade union federation agglutinating Colombian teachers, said that, in the first place, the movement is fighting for the right to life and the ceasing of threats and systematic murders of social leaders (22 leaders have been assassinated just during the first two months this year!). “We demand that the National Government takes measures to protect our social and trade union leaders, and that it carries out specific investigations, with results, being that impunity for such crimes surpasses 95% at present”, he stated.

The teachers’ strike was also staged against the current Administration’s National Development Plan, which, according to FECODE, does not include any major investment in education, but instead attacks the labour and wage rights of Colombian teachers.

Teachers are also demanding improved health care, because they have very bad medical services right now, which are getting worse day by day. Health servers in the teaching sector are owed over 226 million dollars, a debt which has been accumulating for years, and no action is being taken either to hire new health servers.

Likewise, FECODE is promoting a constitutional reform of the General System of Participations, so that public education is allocated more resources. According to Alarcon, many educational facilities are deteriorating and falling to pieces, there are acute shortages and obstacles in the provision of teaching aids, school transportation and nutrition, the latter being of very bad quality and constantly affected by corruption.

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