We wish to highlight the following 5 news items in the field of labour and trade union rights, which took place in Colombia during the month of August:
– In a letter to incoming President Ivan Duque, 6 international trade union federations express their concern regarding murders of social leaders in Colombia.
– The trade union movement’s stand on the proposal to grant special powers to raise minimum wage.
– In the plea currently being negotiated with Ecopetrol, USO defends public ownership of the company.
– Recommendations made to the Commission of Truth and Special Jurisdiction for Peace over anti trade union violence.
– Minority trade union wins vote to strike at Port of Buenaventura.
In Letter to Incoming President Ivan Duque, 6 International Trade Union Federations Express Concern about Murders of Social Leaders
“It worries us that the general outcry against threats and murders of social and trade union leaders who defend human rights, have not only not managed to stop the crimes, but murders have in fact increased, reaching alarming levels of impunity”, says a letter addressed to incoming President Duque by 6 international trade union federations who have union counterparts in Colombia.
The group stresses that if the State’s Security Forces had paid attention when warnings were made in time, at least some of these murders would have been prevented. It also points out the need to establish an effective mechanism to protect social leaders who are under threat, as well as making a review of the crime investigation procedures now in place, in order to do away with existing impunity.
The letter is signed by UNI Global Union, The Trade Union Confederations of Workers in the Americas (Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de las Américas CSA), the Wood and Construction Workers International (Internacional de Trabajadores de la Construcción y la Madera ICM), the International Federation of Transporters (Federación Internacional de Trabajadores del Transporte ITF), REL-UITA, Public Services International (Internacional de Servicios Públicos ISP) and the IndustriALL Global Union.
The federations also recommend that President Duque establish a permanent dialogue with the country´s most representative trade unions, in order to foster decent and formal work and promote collective negotiations per sector, observing ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which Colombia has undersigned.
The Trade Union Movement´s Stand on the Proposal to Grant Special Powers to Raise Minimum Wage
Trade unions were astonished recently when Senator Álvaro Uribe put before Congress a proposal that would give President Duque special faculties to raise Colombia’s minimum wage, ordering a one-time, extraordinary salary raise.
CUT pointed out that, regardless of the fact that the country’s minimum salary is “extremely precarious”, such a project is completely unnecessary, given that wage increases, according to the Constitution, are defined by the Commission for the Concertation of Labour and Salary Policies (Comisión de Concertación de Políticas Salariales y Laborales CPCPSL). Furthermore, taking such a measure would be risky, as it includes points that can be used to give entrepreneurs tax privileges and to raise taxes among workers and the middle class.
CTC manifested the same fears: if President Duque begins to decree ‘extraordinary powers’ for himself, he can go ahead and design his own tax reform, and other reforms he has been announcing. CTC also pointed out that the CPCPSL can´t just be ignored and set aside, being as it is the body actually in charge of defining wage increases.
CGT considered Senator Uribe’s proposal interesting, since it would increase worker incomes and compensate for the rise in VAT imposed by Santos. Yet it feels additional time is needed to study all the implications of this proposed measure, with respect to the tax reform Duque has announced and how it would affect worker incomes.
On its part, the National Trade Union School ENS believes what lies at the bottom of this proposal is whether President Duque will take advantage of this measure to make his own tax reform, or whether this proposed tax reform will be debated in Congress, in sessions open to the public.
Labour Minister Alicia Arango has already asked the CPCPSL to analyse Senator Uribe’s proposal, so that this tri-body can become a reference for President Duque to reach his decisions.
USO Defends Public Ownership of Ecopetrol For Petition Plea under Negotiation
Cesar Loza, President of the Worker Trade Union USO, explaining the scope of the petition plea being negotiated with Ecopetrol, declared that, beyond the social and economic benefits both to workers and to the communities surrounding the oil fields, on this occasion the main purpose of the plea is to defend that Ecopetrol continues to be a public enterprise.
Loza pointed out that USO is defying the proposal made by the National Business Association, which carries remarkable weight in government decisions, to sell the stock of the State owned Ecopetrol partially or completely to private owners.
Loza ratifies that USO shall continue to defend Ecopetrol as a public enterprise at the negotiating table. During the past 10 years, this company has provided the country 60.300 million dollars in royalties, taxes and profits. He informed that in past negotiations, the trade union contributed to passing the control of various oil wells over to Ecopetrol. These wells currently produce 135.000 barrels of crude daily.
The negotiation plea also proposes modernising the refinery at Barrancabermeja, and urges Ecopetrol to wholeheartedly endorse clean and renewable energies.
Loza denies that the USO plea will cost two thousand million pesos, as some news media state. It would cost a tenth of that sum. He also emphasised the need to defend outsourced workers, as they represent 80% of Ecopetrol’s workers and their labour conditions are quite hazardous. Due to the crisis in the price of crude, salaries in 2015 decreased between 25% and 45%.
Likewise, the negotiation addresses the need to consider and improve the living conditions of the communities located around the oil exploitation sites.
Recommendations to the Truth Commission and to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace about Anti Trade-Union Violence
The trade union movement has much to contribute to, and to expect from, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz JEP), in terms of satisfying their human rights as collective victims of Colombia’s armed conflict. The same holds true for the Truth Commission (Comisión para la Verdad CEV): it is essential to establish the truth regarding anti trade union violence and collective reparation.
The CEV and the JEP were bodies created within the framework of the Peace Accords between the State and the former FARC guerrillas; both form part of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Retribución y No Repetición SIVJRNR).
Trade-union federations CTC, CGT and FECODE have submitted a document to the CEV and JEP, which gathers technical and methodological recommendations on how to approach the case of trade unions. These suggestions came about as a result of a discussion process amongst various trade unions affiliated to the three federations.
The central premise of these organisations is that the case for trade unions must be approached from a very broad perspective, being that all the violence directed against the trade union movement during the armed conflict not only meant the loss of many lives, but has also had grievous effects against trade unions, Colombian social processes and its very democracy.
Up to the year 2013, some 700 organisations had been victims of at least one violation of the right to life, liberty or the integrity of some of members, and 322 trade unions had at least one of their affiliates assassinated. Furthermore, trade union members and their organisations were denied individual and collective rights due to the implementation of harmful government legislation and policies.
Taking this perspective into account, the trade unions undersigning the recommendations submitted before the SIVJRNR Integral System analysed anti trade union violence from three approaches: according to sectors of the economy; according to the different regions of the country where violence perpetrated by groups raised in arms, entrepreneurs and State agents alike took place; and a demographic approach, assessing violence from perspectives of age, gender and ethnic groups.
They recommend drafting a special chapter on the causes and effects of anti-trade union violence, the rationale behind it, its patterns, its main factors and the identification of the groups or individuals who profited from said violence. Collective reparation should be sought, making emphasis on guaranteeing non-repetition and the defeat of the structural causes of violence. These are vital conditions in order for trade union activity, democracy and peace to exist in Colombia.
Furthermore, the CEV should issue recommendations geared to deconstructing the stigmatisation and anti-trade union culture engrained in our society, which is what has facilitated its victimisation and the violence against it in the first place. As an example, campaigns in the mass media should be carried out, geared to dignifying the trade union movement and destroying the negative imaginaries associated with trade unions.
The Labour Ministry’s capacity to undertake investigations must also be strengthened, making the private sector and the business communities commit to respecting trade union activities, under the aegis that anti trade union violence facilitated implementing labour models and relations detrimental to workers, such as labour instability and outsourcing.
Minority Trade Union Wins Vote to Strike at Buenaventura Port
Workers at the Container Terminal located in the Port of Buenaventura (Terminal de Contenedores del puerto de Buenaventura TCBUEN) voted in favour of going on strike in response to the company’s refusal to negotiate a plea presented by the SNTT union.
The most outstanding thing about this decision to strike was that, in spite of only having 87 affiliates, SNTT managed to get 277 of the 380 people working at the container terminal to vote in favour of the strike, by a majority (82%). This unexpected outcome forced TCBUEN to change its attitude, and it has now agreed to meet with the trade union and look for a negotiated agreement before September 6, deadline chosen to decree the strike’s zero hour.
Esteban Barboza, President SNTT, celebrated this victory, especially because the company never expected unionised workers to vote in favour of the strike, being that they are a minority. The victory, he said, was due to the fact that the trade union carried out an effective campaign, involving flyers, demonstrations and person-to-person explanations to workers, making it clear that what the company was offering them was not in tune with the needs that they had.
Port enterprises at Buenaventura were anxious and concerned. TCBUEN would not only lose around $500 million pesos a day, were the strike to be held, but the terminal acts as supplier for the rest of the ports in the region, and its stopping would paralyse most activities at Buenaventura, Colombia’s main port on the Pacific Ocean.
Another outstanding circumstance was that the workers affiliated to SNTT at the Ports of Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Cartagena, as well as the Buenaventura Port Society, also advanced action to initiate a strike of solidarity, were the petitions of TCBUEN workers not to be heard and considered. If this had happened, it would have been the first formal solidarity strike in Colombia.
Yet another factor of influence was the international campaign that SNTT carried out in association with ITF (International Transporters Federation), and with 3F, the largest port trade union in Denmark, headquarters of Maersk, which owns TCBUEN.