From the Legal Collective Jose Alvear Restrepo

(Translated by Buddy Bell, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, CSN’s Volunteer Editor)
National Report on Decency in the Colombian Workplace 2009
The Socioeconomic Context Impedes an Entire Generation from Finding Quality Employment
by the Colombian Campaign for Decent Employment and the ENS
Thursday October 7, 2010
In 2009 there were close to 20 million Colombians who were below the poverty line, and around 8 million at risk of starvation or in need of shelter. The conditions were even more miserable in rural areas: out of every 100 households, 64 were poor and 29 lived in conditions of destitution. Although the poverty level declined between 2002 and 2009, from 53.7 percent to 45.5 percent, the economic growth that Colombia experienced in the same period did not equip it to substantially improve living conditions for the majority of Colombians.
Right to Work | Workers |

Starvation and homelessness increased between 2005 and 2009. It went from 15.7 percent to 16.4 percent, an immoral and worrying situation, given the fact that it came while the country experienced a robust period for business and a high GDP.

* The gap between rich and poor became wider. Between 2005 y 2008 the Gini Index went from 0.58 to 0.59 (meaning wealth distribution became more unequal). According to a UN-Habitat report (UN Urban Forum, Río de Janeiro, March 25 2010), the richest 10 percent of Colombians received half of all income in the country. The poorest 10 percent received 0.9 percent of national income.

Sectors that Offer Few Jobs are on the Rise and Formal Work Status Disappearing

In 2009 the national manufacturing of goods fell 6.3 percent. Other economic sectors that shrank in 2009 were: stores, repair shops, restaurants and hotels (2.9 percent), which results from a decrease in average household consumption. The transportation sector shrank 1.2 percent. All these sectors used to offer good formal employment, jobs that have disappeared or are now in a precarious position.

Sectors with enhanced growth included: construction (increase of 12.8 percent), thanks to the civil works department, which grew 33.9 percent; the mining sector, registering growth at 11.3 percent; and the financial sector at 3.1 percent. The construction and mining sectors generate jobs which do not pay as much and in relatively dangerous and unregulated work environments.

Work Opportunities

Unemployment is on the rise, more heads of household are out of work, and more are looking for work.

In 2009 the average unemployment rate was 12 percent, up from the 2008 rate of 11.3 percent. The specific rate for heads of household grew more drastically, from 5.5 percent to 6.2 percent, an especially grave situation considering they provide the bulk of income to support their whole families.

In 2009 there were about 2,513,000 unemployed— 297,000 more than in 2008, a time when the number of unemployed reached about 2,216,000. This means more people are out looking for work.

The employment rate grew by about 979,000 since 2008, and the proportional rate went from 51.9 percent to 53.9 percent. But the population also grew by about 1,277,000 people, bringing the total to 20,941,000. What also went up was the economic participation rate of the population, from 58.5 percent in 2008 to 61.3 percent in 2009. This is to say there were more men and women competing for jobs in the labor market.

Each year more people are leaving home to look for work, with an economy that creates few jobs. Spouses, children, relatives, and others find themselves looking for work so that household income will not be affected. As a consequence, the rate of inactivity decreased from 41.5 percent to 38.7 percent from 2008 to 2009; that is to say in the past year there were 717,000 less “inactive” people compared to 2008. A rise in underemployment is also observed, both for those looking for additional work and for those who are not. The rate is at 29.7 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively.

Explosion of Informality

In 2009 there were more occupational positions available in what is typically characterized as the informal sector. Self-employment rose 8 percent; the sector of unpaid family workers rose 30.5 percent; and other unpaid labor, 17.3 percent.

It should be emphasized that in 2009, 42.6 percent of all employed people were self-employed, followed by independent contractors which made up 34.5 percent. The public sector only accounted for 4.6 percent of employed people, an incredible drop of 8 percent between 2008 and 2009.

The data from the first half of 2010 maintain these discouraging tendencies. Employment came to 55.2 percent, and unemployment went from 12.3 percent to 12.5 percent. Underemployment grew, both for those looking for additional work (a rise of 0.4 percent up until June) and for those who were not (a rise of 0.6 percent up until June). The total underemployment rate came in at 32.7 percent.

The analysis also finds a 4.4 percent increase in self-employed people, 3.5 percent in general labor or day labor, and 2.9 percent in independent contracting. Positions in management shrank 3.7 percent. And the number of government employees fell by 1.4 percent.

Social and Labor Insecurity

Two-thirds of workers can not count on any sort of social insurance program. For 2009 only 44 percent were enrolled in health insurance, only 31 percent were in an unemployment insurance fund, 29 percent in family unemployment insurance (only for heads of household), 35 percent in a pension program, and 37 percent in a workers’ compensation insurance program which pays in case of job-related injuries.

Colombia officially registered 743 workplace deaths in 2008, and 588 in 2009. The number of people getting sick from workplace exposures climbed 12 percent, from 6,145 in 2008 to 6,891 in 2009. As for workplace accidents, 360,800 occurred in 2008 and 410,410 in 2009.

Workplace Equity: Women Continue to Experience Discrimination

During the last 10 years the female rate of participation in the workforce has been steady at about 48.6 percent globally, while that of males was 73.6 percent. Obstacles for women persist, such as barriers to access, difficulty earning qualifications, and the presence of stereotypes and social norms that assign women to household work and childcare.

The unemployment rate for women came to 15.8 percent in 2009, 6.5 percent higher than for men. The previous year, the difference was 6 percent. Therefore, the inequality between men and women is far from closing, it continues to grow and intensify.

Women find their jobs in a more precarious position and with less social insurances. They make up 95 percent of domestic workers and 57 percent of unpaid workers. They represent 21.69 percent of managers and employers; and finally 38.63 percent of independent contractors.

…and the young, too
Youth unemployment in Colombia stands at 22.6 percent, much higher than the national rate of 11.6 percent, measured in June 2010. That is to say, 1,228,000 youth do not have work, representing 48 percent of total unemployed. Young women face an even worse situation: they make up 28.9 percent of the unemployed.

Of youth who do work, 73 percent of them do so informally, 20 percent higher than the national average. Gender differences prove complicated to analyze, since informal work is surprisingly more prevalent among young men (75 percent) than among young women (69 percent). Women are more heavily recruited for intricate, detailed, or precise work, like small parts assembly or sewing.

Social Dialogue and Collective Negotiation: Non-Existent

Social dialogue in Colombia is practically non-existent, and you can’t even find it in the public imagination, either. During the Uribe government the minimum wage was only increased 4 times, while key labor decisions were imposed, such as: cuts to benefits for public employees at the national and local levels; the restructuring of 412 publicly owned companies, like Telecom, the Social Insurance Institute, ADPOSTAL, and Inravisión; and the poor execution of collective negotiation in the public sector.

In its 8 years, the Uribe government diminished the number of grassroots workers’ agreements. Between 2001 and 2002, 447 workers’ agreements were negotiated, but between 2008 and 2009 only 307 were reached, which represents a decrease of 31.2 percent. With respect to the number of workers covered, it fell from 176,140 to 124,200 over the same time period. As a percentage of population, this is a decrease of 29.48 percent.

Official union contracts have gone up in number, and the most dynamic increase has come in the past three years, amply stimulated by the outgoing government as a strategy to reduce labor costs and to increase labor flexibility.

A similar thing happened with the Collective Pacts that were “negotiated” between companies and groups of non-unionized workers. In this type of contract, the workers are not organizing on their own. Usually the Collective Pacts are an anti-union strategy to pacify worker discontent, so that these workers will not decide to try and form a union. The Pacts are also used as a reward for workers who renounce and abandon a union in the process of forming.

Strikes and Protests

During 2009 there were 103 strikes and protests by Colombian workers, which significantly exceeded what happened in 2008.

These protests happened as a response to the scaling back of labor rights, the restructuring of public companies, and/or to unpaid wages and benefits. There were 28 strikes in the country, 27 protests and marches, 24 all-day protests/marches, and 20 occupations/blockades.

Without Union Liberties, Union Affiliation Falling

In the first months of 2010, the outgoing government, along with some companies, publicly declared their satisfaction with the supposed growth in union affiliation, which they announced as 75 percent. What’s ironic about the announcement is that the companies and the government have not tried to prove this estimate of affiliation, simply because it has been years since the Ministry of Social Protection has kept records or made official estimates about the size of unionism in Colombia.

On the contrary, making a comparison between the numbers of union-affiliated workers during 2002 and later during 2008, we find that the devastating losses of unionized workers during the Uribe government came to approximately 120,000 people. The rate of union affiliation in Colombia today is 4.2 percent of workers (as of December 2009), the lowest in Lain America.
The Violence and Impunity Doesn’t Stop

In Colombia from January 1, 1986, until August 30, 2010, there have been at least 2842 assassinations of union members (2568 men and 272 women). Of these, 25.7 percent or 731 were committed against union directors. About 270 attempted assassinations, 215 forced disappearances, at least 4770 death threats and 1696 forcefully displaced were also recorded during this time.

Between 1999 and 2009 there were a total of 1717 assassinations of union members worldwide. South America is the most dangerous continent, as 73 percent of the recorded total occurred there, a scandalous figure of 1253 killings. Asia’s participation in the political targeting made up 17 percent (233 killings). Central America and the Caribbean accounted for 5.4 percent (92), Africa 4.6 percent (79), the Middle East 3 percent (50), and Europe 0.4 percent (8).

The numbers are shocking, but conclusive: Colombia is where 63 percent of these assassinations took place. Similar situations, albeit at a lower intensity, were present in the Philippines, with 5.4 percent, and in Guatemala, with 3.5 percent.

Among unionized workers, there were 707 invasions of their privacy and integrity recorded in Colombia during 2009. Also 47 assassinations, 412 death threats, 129 evictions, 53 incidents of persecution/harassment, 34 arbitrary detentions, 18 murder attempts, 7 cases of torture, 3 disappearances, and 4 illegal raids. In this period there was a noticeable rise in homicide against union directors. In 2008, 16 leaders were killed, and 21 lost their lives in 2009.

From January 1 to August 23 of 2010, the violence against workers persisted in Colombia. The first 8 months of this year saw 35 homicides, 11 of them against union directors; likewise, 15 attempted murders occurred, 14 of them against union directors.

Who’s Investigating?

Thanks to pressure from the international workers’ movement, and much prodding from the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, the Colombian Justice Department created an investigative subunit, which as of June 2010 has not reported broadly on the results of its work. The subunit has been assigned 1344 cases, but it has only investigated 1150 so far, due to the fact that 194 physical files have been lost. Regarding the 1150 cases that are being investigated, 555 (48.26 percent) are only in preliminary stages. This is to say that in almost half the cases there is no positive ID of the presumed aggressor. Another 312 cases (27.1 percent) are in the “instruction” stage, where there is a formal investigation of some specifically identified suspect. In 175 cases (15.21 percent) There are formal criminal charges. The department has precluded 47 cases (4 percent), that is to say it has made the investigation legally impossible. Finally, in 63 cases (5.47 percent) the department refrained from developing a standard for detaining or restraining accused individuals.


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