White House Ignores Labor Concerns in Colombia

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By: Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director 6/8/12

Meeting with Colombian President Santos following the Summit of the Americas, President Obama declared that the Colombian government had met the terms of the Labor Action Plan, allowing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement to take effect May 15th. The Latin America Working Group joined U.S. and Colombian unions and nongovernmental groups in condemning this action, which makes a mockery of the commitment Mr. Obama made to ensure that all the elements of the Labor Action Plan would be fulfilled.

A week after President Obama made this announcement, trade unionists belonging to the SINTRAEMCALI union received invitations to their own funeral, with two bullets, two roses and a prayer book. Thirty trade unionists were killed in 2011, and at least four were killed so far this year. While the Colombian government has improved protection programs for trade unionists, a positive impact of the plan, most of the killers of trade unionists remain free, and threats are rarely even investigated.

In other violations of the Labor Action Plan, it continues to be a common practice to fire workers who wish to affiliate with a union or who were engaged in organizing, and then to rehire workers willing to sign letters saying they are not affiliated with a trade union. The Colombian government issued regulations to ban “labor cooperatives” that undermine unions (they act as if workers are self-employed, so that the companies that hire them need not abide by labor law), but has failed to address other similar arrangements with different names. Many companies, including in sectors such as sugar, oil palm, coffee, health, mining, ports and transport, are forming associations with other names to skirt the cooperatives ban.

Leo Gerard, President of the Steelworkers Union, declared, “We cannot certify as compliant with the Labor Action Plan a blacklisted country that continues to countenance murder. That would violate everything good and moral that we stand for as a people.” We agree with him. LAWG will continue to work with unions, NGOs and interested members of Congress to put pressure on both governments to ensure full implementation of the Labor Action Plan.