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Labor Action Plan Monitoring Report

This is a Labor Action Plan Monitoring report done by Witness for Peace delegates and International Team this past July. It includes the on-the-ground labor reality for Colombian workers now that the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the U.S. has been implemented. The report includes specific recommendations and case studies for U.S. officials, policymakers and civil society to track where labor law is not complied with and bring about effective change set out by U.S. and Colombian labor accords.

Labor Reality in Colombia

Continued Violations of the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights:

Witness For Peace July 2012 Delegation Report

August 1, 2012


The purpose of this report is to convey the findings and recommendations of the Witness for Peace delegation that conducted an independent investigation of labor rights in Colombia from July 20-30, 2012. Our ten-person delegation was comprised of two full-time Witness for Peace staff living in Colombia and eight delegates from the United States including trade unionists, educators, activists, and NGO workers. This delegation specifically aimed to assess the implementation of the Labor Action Plan now that the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement is in effect. Through meeting with affected groups and advocacy organizations, we found multiple and egregious violations of the plan in the areas of Cooperatives, Collective Pacts, and Violence and Impunity, as well as a lack of response to the troubling consequences of the FTA for women in Colombia. As the United States is now complicit in these labor rights violations, we ask that the U.S. Embassy do everything in its power to act on this information to remedy the continued violations of the Labor Action Plan.

I. Cooperatives

The Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights intended to prohibit the misuse of subcontracting by cooperatives and temporary service agencies. Witness for Peace July 2012 delegation has found that they have been replaced by new and just as prevalent forms of intermediary employment and third party contracting. The Labor Action Plan identifies the port sector as a priority. Buenaventura illustrates the egregious labor violations of this plan. Our visit to the port provided clear examples of noncompliance with the Labor Action Plan through a variety of methods:

New forms of subcontracting

A Simplified Stock Association (SAS) is a new form of subcontracting agency that has replaced cooperatives. The port of Buenaventura and Sociedad Portuaria is especially dramatic in this regard with over 700 intermediary companies such as Simplified Stock Associations.

· Compania Servicios Portuario Esapecializada (CSPE) is one of many SAS operated by the pro-managerial union Sintramaritimo. More and more of these “unions” are adopting subcontracting mechanisms as a means of skirting around the cooperatives. CSPE is an important example that limits workers’ rights by preventing direct contracts with corporate employers which would provide direct accountability and stability. Workers employed through CSPE have been denied their legitimate benefits and job security through their employment by a third party contractor.

· The cooperative Coowinpropa reinvented itself as a SAS named Artica. Then it transformed itself once more into another SAS called Ecpe. However, the owner remained the same in all three forms. This not only prevented direct contracts, but it also imposed temporary employment.

Conditions on Direct Contracts

The most common demand by port workers is a direct contract relationship with the corporations.

· Often direct contracts place conditions on workers; most commonly workers are forced to agree to not join or to withdraw from the Union Portuaria (otherwise known as a “yellow dog contract”). TECSA, in addition to employing workers through intermediaries, enforced the condition that workers not be represented by the Union Portuaria in its direct contracts with workers. Intermodal S.A.S. required that workers not be represented by the Union Portuaria and demanded that workers withdraw their complaints from the Labor Ministry. Prodeco offered workers direct contracts only if they withdrew from the union and kept their contracts secret.

Expansion of Precarious Work

According to the Labor Action Plan, temporary work arrangements are not to be used to undermine labor rights.

Workers with Intermodal S.A.S. report that even when they receive a direct contract, the duration rarely exceeds 4-6 months. These short term contracts enable a high turnover of workforce and maintain low wages, poor working conditions, meager benefits and the inability to accumulate seniority.

The Labor Action Plan requires direct contracts and steady work for “permanent core functions.” However, workers report that the short contracts and new intermediaries are eroding job security even in areas of core function of the port.

Proliferation of Competing Unions

The creation of competing unions undermines workers’ collective bargaining rights. Many of these unions have only a small number of members and receive preferential treatment from companies. In Buenaventura, for example, Sintramaritimo, is described by workers as a “sindicato patronal,” because it collaborates with the company to undermine negotiations. It also received resources from the mayor’s office for rent in the amount of 1,500,000 pesos.


As pointed out by the previous Witness for Peace delegation in February, there is an ongoing problem with inspections.

Even though the Colombian government complied with the hiring of additional inspectors, they are not trained adequately to identify these new forms of subcontracting. When fines are imposed they are inadequate in amount (a 56 million peso limit), they can be appealed interminably, and they do not deter corporations from repeat violations. For large multinationals the fines are not a deterrent and for smaller companies it justifies bankruptcy and leads to reincorporation without improvement of labor conditions for workers.

In fact, of the 91 fines imposed, no fines nor any criminal sanction for anti-union violence have been carried out. (See the list of imposed fines attached.)

Under Section III Part B, the “strategy of offering to waive fines wholly or in part when the employer agrees to create and maintain a direct employment relationship” allows the companies to get away with their violations.

In requests for clarification of Decree 2025, the Labor Ministry has exempted the very forms of labor outsourcing that are meant to be prevented by the Labor Action Plan.

Additional Concerns

We have serious additional concerns about the labor and human rights conditions at the port and in Buenaventura:

· Ongoing death threats against union leaders

· Blatant racism by employers of Afro-Colombian workers

· Lack of social investment by the port companies in the community

· The increase in sexual violence against women and child prostitution


· Advocate for broader language and clearer interpretation of labor law to include all forms of third party subcontracting and outsourcing

· Train more labor inspectors to ensure frequency of inspection, monitoring, and follow-up

· Promote compliance through the application of fines and criminal penalties since no fines nor any criminal sanction for anti union violence have been carried out.

· Secure the increase in direct employment relationships without conditions that undermine “the right to organize and bargain collectively”

· Protect threatened unionists and issue an immediate embassy denunciation of any act of violence against workers

II. Collective Pacts

Another key issue undermining freedom of association in Colombia is the continued use of collective pacts and the lack of enforcement to prevent such pacts.

As you are aware, Section V of the Labor Action Plan provides for reforming the Criminal Code of Colombia to criminalize collective pacts that are used to undermine the right to organize. In addition, the Labor Action Plan says that the Ministry of Social Protections, now the Labor Ministry, “will implement a robust enforcement regime . . . to detect and prosecute violations.” Unfortunately, these provisions of the Labor Action Plan on collective pacts are not being fulfilled.

In collective pacts, workers are offered short-term benefits and improved working conditions in exchange for renouncing their right to join an independent labor union, effectively removing their right to organize and allowing the company to dictate all conditions of employment. Without an independent labor union to represent workers’ interests, workers cannot effectively defend their rights and enjoy full protections of the labor code.

General Motors Colombia is one company that continues to use collective pacts to the detriment of labor rights. Since 2003, GM Colombia has signed a collective pact with workers every two years, with the last one signed in January of 2012. At the signing this year, GM workers were incentivized with money to sign the pact, which explicitly prohibits them from joining an independent union. Workers were told that their continued employment was dependent on signing the pact, so in fact they had no choice but to accept the imposed conditions. The individuals who ostensibly represented the workers were not elected and instead were appointed by GM management.

The lack of independent labor representation for GM workers has exacerbated conflicts between workers and management and left many workers subject to illegal firings. For example, workers have documented systemic patterns of illegal terminations due to workplace injuries, including debilitating conditions requiring major surgery that limit mobility and employment options for workers. Company practices included the sharing of medical records from the company clinic doctors with management, who then fired workers based on this confidential information.

Both General Motors Colombia and the Ministry of Labor were complicit in the illegal firing of injured workers. In the last year, worker complaints prompted the Labor Ministry and the Procuraduría to investigate these firings and concluded that GM had violated labor law. In a follow-up investigation, workers’ medical records disappeared from company files, and the Procuraduría was not present as required by law. Moreover, the labor inspector who signed off on the firings, as well as the GM lawyer, have been sanctioned by the Attorney General for their illegal actions.

These illegal firings led to the formation in May 2011 of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL). The founder of this organization, Jorge Parra, was fired two months later in retaliation for exercising his right to freedom of association. Without effective union representation, these workers have taken their grievances to the public by protesting in front of the U.S. Embassy. These workers are seeking reinstatement to jobs appropriate to their physical abilities; the right to form a labor union; and pensions for those workers too ill to resume employment based on their workplace injuries.

The continued existence of collective pacts and the systemic failure to prosecute labor violations indicates that the Labor Action Plan has not been implemented in full as required by U.S. Congress with the passage of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. As concerned U.S. citizens who are closely monitoring the labor and human situation in Colombia, we request the U.S. Embassy to take the following actions:

§ Investigate the collective pact signed by General Motors with its workers that undermines their rights to organize

§ Press the Colombian government to prosecute those illegal actions under the new criminal code implemented as part of the Labor Action Plan

§ Resume discussions with ASOTRECOL and assist in the resolution of the labor conflict between GM and these illegally fired workers by advocating for the reinstatement of these workers, pensions for those with disabilities that prevent their employment, and the formation of an independent labor union

§ Work with the Colombian government to ensure the “robust enforcement” required by the Labor Action Plan Section V is carried out

III. Violence Against Trade Unionists, Impunity for Offenders

Colombia is known for having the highest rate of violence against trade union members and labor activists. While we believe that the initiatives included in the Labor Action Plan, such as broadening the definition of who is covered in the Colombian government’s protection program and the implementation of criminal justice reforms are a step in the right direction, we are still extremely concerned with the levels of impunity, violence and threats within the labor sector. In spite of the intended additions of 95 judicial police investigators and 480 new labor inspectors, there are abundant cases of union-related violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation towards union leaders.

Even after both the Colombian and United States governments signed the Labor Action Plan in April 2011, labor leaders have been victims of over 500 death threats and 29 assassinations. One such case is that of Daniel Aguirre, the Secretary General and founder of SINALCORTEROS. Mr. Aguirre was assassinated on April 27, 2012 and to this date no justice has been served. Immediate action is necessary to solve this case and bring justice to the perpetrators since Mr. Aguirre is the first union leader to be killed since President Obama declared implementation of the free trade agreement.

Other assassinations this year include that of Mauricio Redondo of USO, who was killed along with his wife on January 17 in Puerto Asis, Putumayo, and Alexander Gonzales Blandon of SINTRAENTEDDIMCCOL who was murdered on January 19, 2012 in Bugalagrande, Valle del Cauca. In 2011, the death of SINALTRAINAL member John Fredy Carmona, whose body was discovered on December 9 in Medellin, and the paramilitary attack of SINALTRAINAL Executive Committee Member Juan Carlos Galvis on November 9 have not been sufficiently investigated.

We are concerned that these deaths will only be further additions to the backlog of cases that have perpetuated impunity in Colombian society. Such cases include Luciano Romero of SINALTRAINAL, who was stabbed to death in 2005. In fact, in SINALTRAINAL’s thirty years of existence, 24 union members have been killed, 2 disappeared, 14 imprisoned, 80 death threats received, 49 forcibly displaced, 6 exiled, and several attacked. These acts of violence against unionists are met with widespread impunity: of the 2,886 trade unionists murdered since 1986 less than 10 percent have led to a conviction. The impunity rate remains intolerable even for violence that has occurred after the passage of the Labor Action Plan.

The continued persecution of trade unionists and labor activists is further amplified considering the fact that only 3.9% of the Colombian workforce is unionized. Death threats are another method used by re-armed paramilitary units, who in some cases cooperate with multinationals, to inculcate fear among union leaders and labor activists. The very same week that the FTA went into effect, the following labor union leaders and their families’ received death threats:

· Jhon Jairo Castro of Union Portuaria (Port Workers’ Union)

· Johnnson Torres Ortis of SINALCORTEROS

· Rene Morales Silva of SINTRAINAGRO

This year, leaders of SINTRAEMCALI were threatened by the paramilitary group the Black Eagles. SINTRAINAGRO has received 13 death threats and union member Henry Diaz was disappeared.

Given the alarming rates of persistent threats and acts of violence, we have noticed that the implementations of the protection programs and judicial reforms delineated in the Labor Action Plan have not been achieved. It is imperative that the Colombian government, with the support of the United States, ensures their compliance with the specific programs and initiatives outlined in the Labor Action Plan.

IV. The Omission of Women’s Voices in the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

The concerns of Colombian women were not taken into consideration with the development and passage of the FTA, either through a government study or listening to the case of the women’s movement. Without the inclusion of specific protections for women, the FTA cannot stand as a just document. The obligation to reduce discrimination against women is present in the Colombian Constitution as well as various international humanitarian agreements, but is absent from the FTA. Discrimination based on gender is rampant in Colombia, and has worsened during the past five years of free trade negotiation. According to a 2007 NGO report, the salary gap between men and women holding the same position was 14.28%. According to the women’s division of the Central Unitario de Trabajadores (CUT), the rate has doubled to 28.9% today. Additionally, the increased economic inequality and instability caused by the FTA forces more people (especially women) to work in the precarious informal sector, without healthcare, contracts, or protection from the Labor Action Plan.

The major concerns held by women of the Sabana of Bogota during their First Popular Women’s Assembly surrounded threats to the environment and the local economy. The government does not monitor the flower industry’s water or soil pollution, or hold companies responsible for these negative externalities. The displacement of food crops for monoculture and flower production has decreased agricultural job opportunities, and created precarious employment where wages are suddenly lowered or hours reduced. Despite being hailed as one of the most unionized industries in Colombia, due to the prevalence of sindicatos patronaleswhich are headed by the company, the union Untraflores is alone in truly seeking to protect workers’ rights. Furthermore, cheap agricultural imports have destroyed women’s capacity to compete with their own micro-economic agricultural enterprises.

The women most disproportionately affected by the FTA are indigenous and Afro-Colombian, as well as poor campesina women in rural areas, because of displacement by armed groups or multinational economic interests. Colombia has the highest rate of displacement in the world, and many indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction. According to a leading indigenous organization in Cauca, more than 6,000 people have been displaced in their region this year alone. Community leaders are concerned that this generation of children has only known violence, and child recruitment continues to be a serious problem. The ethnic rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities protected by the International Labor Organization (ILO) decrees were ignored by the parties who approved the FTA without consulting either community.


Mary Bellman

Bethany Carson

Amanda Ciafone

Kate Dillon

Jessica Hayssen

Omar Martinez

Ruth Needleman`

Robert Winslow

Carlos Cruz, Witness For Peace International Team

Jessica Weinstein, Witness for Peace International Team


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