Summary for the Month of March 2019

AIL issued a great deal of news and opinion items during March. Here we summarise the 4 we consider most relevant:

Lea el resumen en español

  • Mobilisations and declarations in favour of the Special Justice for Peace (JEP) after President Duque´s objections.
  • Duque´s National Development Plan (PND) does not guarantee Decent Work and expropriates pension savings.
  • With little optimism, State trade unions begin negotiations with Duque Administration.
  • “The street and mobilisations, the only scenario left to us”, says President of Teachers Union Fecode.

March 21

Mobilisations and Declarations in favour of JEP after President Duque’s Objections

On March 10, President Duque objected to 5 Articles of the Statutory Law of the Special Justice for Peace (JEP), a Tribunal representing the core of the peace process between Colombia and the ex FARC guerrillas. He also announced that he would propose a constitutional reform project regarding several JEP aspects.

Naturally this presidential decision has caused quite a stir in Colombian politics, kindling debate around the peace process with FARC, a peace process which has been under ferocious attacks from Colombia’s right-wing sector, among these the Democratic Centre (Centro democrático CD), led by current Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe.

The first reaction came from ex-negotiators of the 2016 Peace Accords between the Colombian State and the ex FARC guerrillas, and also from a large group of personalities among politicians and civil society, including artists. In a letter sent to the UN Secretary General and Security Council, and the Attorney General of the International Criminal Court, this group expressed concern about the President’s objections, arguing that they would affect the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accords, already underway, and that they contravene a Supreme Court sentence, which already declared the JEP constitutional. 

Opposition leaders in Congress rallied against President Duque´s objections. Under the slogan «Let us defend peace» , they called for marches to be held throughout the country in defence of the JEP. On Monday, March 19, Plaza de Bolívar, the capital’s main town square, was crowded with protesters. The trade union movement actively participated in this mobilisation.

The promotors of this march highlighted the importance of protecting the JEP, as it is a crucial part of the construction and preservation of memories, arriving at the truth, identifying those responsible, and ascertaining non-repetition. “To attack the JEP means to attack the victims”, they stressed, also appealing to the international community and asking its support for those who defend the JEP.

The objections made by President Duque are under consideration at the Congress of the Republic, which has until June 20 as its deadline to decide whether or not to accept them.

March 5

The Proposed National Development Plan Does not Guarantee Decent Work and Would Expropriate Pension Savings

The National Development Plan presented by the Duque Administration for approval by Congress, has been in the eye of the hurricane, as, according to analysers, opposition parties and the trade union movement alike, it does not benefit workers at all. On the contrary, some of its articles are certain to make labour vulnerability and inequality worse  

The PND does not guarantee Decent Work, and furthermore it totally disregards collective labour rights.  It is bound to cause more vulnerability as it would authorise employees to hire workers via hourly contracts. This would in turn save entrepreneus 36% of their payments into social security, and 36% on social benefits.

Article 117 of the PND, related to pensions, is another critical issue. If a worker does not pay into a pension fund during enough years to get a full pension, the money he or she has saved would be “expropiated”; that is, it would be transferred to the BEPS, a fund managed by Colpensiones.

Senator Angélica Lozano from the Green Party explained it in these terms: “So If you work and do not manage to save as much as you were supposed to save to get a complete pension, whatever you have saved up until then must be returned to you. If Article 117 is approved, you will only have 10 days to claim it, and if you do not claim it during that short period, the money is to be transferred to BEPS, a fund that will only return 40.000 Colombian pesos a month (around 13 USD) to you. If you were to die, whatever savings were still owed to you would be lost, because your family cannot inherit the sum”.

March 11

With Little Optimism, Trade Unions Begin Negotiations with Duque Administration

The three main national trade union federations (CUT, CGT and CTC), and the State sector federations (Fecode, Utradec, Únete, Fetracotrasevipúblicos and Fenaltrase) have begun their first wrestling match with the Duque Administration, within the framework of the National State, Sectorial and Territorial Pleas

According to the spokespersons for these organisations, there is little cause for optimism, since the climate of the negotiations is so influenced by the proposed National Development Plan, which would also give President Duque special faculties to reform part of the State administration, something that CUT considers a “counterplea».

The negotiation of this National State Plea is underway during a mobilisation carried out by teachers affiliated to Fecode, the largest State trade union in the country, with over 300.000 members. Fecode is demanding more resources for public education, plus the solution of very serious problems affecting teachers in the whole country. On March 19 and 20, Fecode carried out a 48-hour strike, which was accompanied by huge mobilisations. Fecode has announced that on April 25 it will actively participate in the “Great National Strike” already convoked.

Francisco Maltes, from CUT, has ratified that State trade unions are currently better prepared than during previous negotiations, due to the expertise accumulated and to the fact that they have corrected past mistakes. Maltes points out: “Ever since the government presented its Development Plan, we have been studying all its aspects. It contains points that would seriously and negatively affect Colombian workers in general, not just State workers”.

State trade union organisations are demanding that labour and pension issues be excluded from the Development Plan, so that they may be discussed instead by the Commission for the Consensus of Labour Policies (Comisión de Concertación de Políticas Laborales), which is the proper constitutional setting in which to deal with the subjects of labour and pensions, adding that they should also be discussed at the negotiation table for the State National Plea.

Juan Diego Gómez, representative in Colombia for Public Utilities International, and who is acting as an advisor during the State trade union negotiation, stressed: “I hope I am mistaken, but I am afraid that the margin of negotiation will be very narrow, which is why the mobilisation of State workers around this negotiation is so important”

March 28

“The Streets and Mobilising, the Only Scenario Left to Teachers”, Says Fecode

On March19 and 20, teachers affiliated to Fecode  carried out a 48-hour strike to protest against the National Development Plan (PND) proposed by the current Administration, which does not guarantee sufficient funding for public education. The strike was also meant to support the Petition Plea being negotiated with the Duque government, and to demand that previous agreements reached be honoured. 

The strike held one of the largest mobilisations ever carried out by Fecode. Between 50 and 60.000 teachers from all over the country marched through the streets of Bogota, along with students, social organisations and plain citizens. Other capital cities in the country also held large rallies. 

Fecode took to the streets in order to demand a reform of the General Participation System, so that resources for public education are gradually increased, the lives of teachers are respected, and the health crisis that teachers face with their own health services are solved. They also sought to support the benefits included in the petition plea under negotiation between the Ministry of Education and Fecode.

Nelson Alarcon, President of Fecode, gave a thumbs-up after the strike. He said that Colombian teachers have never been more united and willing to fight on, even taking their struggle to the streets, in favour of both public education and their labour rights. 

The movement is gaining strength and teachers as teachers become more and more aware that the streets and mobilisations are the only scenario left to them by all governments. Alarcon added that on April 25, Fecode will support the National Strike convoked by 170 social organisations,  among these the CUT trade union federation.   

“As far as the defence of our plea is concerned, it will all depend on how things develop. If we don´t see any progress, if the Administration shows no will to find solutions, we will be forced to call an indefinite national strike”, highlighted Alarcon.

Regarding the attacks Fecode and the country’s teachers have received from the Democratic Centre Party led by ex-President Alvaro Uribe, which is the party now in power, Alarcon indicated that the trade union will not accept having teachers accused of being narco-terrorists, guerrillas or indoctrinators. “We are completely the opposite, people who impart knowledge, who help children and teenagers to grow in love and community spirit. We are fighting for schools to become territories of peace”, he pointed out.


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