REPORT ON EVALUATION OF THE LABOR ACTION PLAN OF U.S.- COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT ( FTA)
Principal Points of the Analysis of the Labor Action Plan by the National Labor Union School (ENS) for the first 4 years of implementation, April 7, 2015. This report was prepared by John I. Laun, President of the Colombia Support Network, to summarize the principal points of the report of April 7, 2015 by the Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Labor Union School). The ENS report consulted was in Spanish.
The expressed goal of the Labor Action Plan (LAP) was to fortify public institutions for the guarantee of labor and union rights in Colombia. The study by the ENS published on April 7, 2015 evaluates the implementation, or failure to implement, provisions of the LAP, and the resulting effects. The principal points of the study are as follows:
1. The Colombian Government created a new Ministry of Labor in 2011-2012, supposedly with additional powers of implementation and enforcement of labor regulations than had previously been the case.
2. Employment in Colombia has increased slightly, from 55.47% in 2010 to 57.4% in 2014, since the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Colombia went into effect. But underemployment and unemployment figures have hardly moved, with the former going from 32.5% in 2010 to 28.2% in 2014 and the latter going from 37.3% in 2010 to 36.4 % in 2014.The percentage of workers with a contract for a set term fell from 33.5% in 2010 to 33.4% in 2014.
3. Affiliation of workers with a pension program has not significantly advanced. More than 70% of workers are not affiliated with a pension system (“cesantias”) in Colombia.
4. The social security system now covers additional workers and collective bargaining for public sector workers is now permitted, with 432 labor agreements entered into up to February 10, 2015. But the complaint system for labor law violations only offers orientation to the citizens and only functions now in Bogota.
5. The process of conciliation, which existed before the LAP, has not been modified to implement the new labor laws.
6. Reform of Article 200 of the Labor Code has turned out to be complex and ineffective in its application, with a failure to comply by the Colombian government. Instead of helping workers, the Law of Citizen Security, which includes reform of Article 200, involves restrictions and obstacles limiting social protest, which is paradoxical—with prison terms of 24 to 48 months and a fine of 13 to 75 monthly salaries, Enforcement by the Colombian government has favored employers against workers, not enforcing the laws except against labor protest actions.
7. Detention of leaders and activists of the USO labor union in the oil industry sector says a lot about the precarious nature of labor rights in the petroleum sector, and especially in the areas under the influence of the political and economic power of the Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales, the second most important oil company in the country, a principal owner of which has been ex-President Clinton’s close friend Frank Giustra. And the case of the sugar cane mill Risaralda, owned principally by the Ardila Lule economic group, where the Colombian anti-riot police, the ESMAD, attacked workers on strike, seriously injuring 5 workers. These two cases are emblematic of the way in which an international commitment to protect the fundamental right to a free labor movement in Colombia has been turned into a sphere of persecution and use of coercive apparatus of the state to violate labor freedoms and the right to protest.
8. The prohibition of the use of Cooperatives of Associated Work (CTA) and other forms of intermediate illegal labor development, which were the subject of Decree 2798 of 2013, only required a formal labor contract, not requiring a direct contract between the business and the employee. This has facilitated the continual use of arrangements which isolate the employer from a direct employment relationship with employees, thus in effect relieving the employer of obligations to its employees for compensation for workers injured on the job or for violations in payment of wages and other benefits promised to workers. This has promoted instability.
9. Violation of labor rights has been greatest in the following sectors: 1) palm oil production; 2) sugar production; 3) mining; 4) ports; and 5) flower production. Enforcement of labor rights has been minimal in these 5 important economic activity areas. Fines may have increased in size, but receipt of payment of the fines is not substantial, or even occurs as reported in many cases. In many cases the fines are suspended when the accused business sues against the administrative act which imposes the fine or other sanction.
10. Rules against the unethical use of temporary employment agencies have not been widely enforced. There are few cases of inspection and the number of cases alleging violations went down from 2013 to 2014. More than 100,000 workers have essentially been forgotten by the Ministry of Labor, causing a lack of confidence among workers.
11. While the use of labor agreements which grant non-union employees better conditions than union employees are supposed to be subject to sanctions, including possible prison sentences, in fact the government has not effectively enforced this provision of the law.
12. While data show that the number of unionized workers grew by 125,390 between 2011 and 2014, the Colombian government through Minister of Labor Rafael Pardo misrepresented the number of labor unions created in the period by including workers at intermediary businesses and social organizations registered as unions but not having a labor component. And instead of negotiating a resolution of labor complaints, employers tend to refuse to discuss workers’ complaints presented by unions, with the result that the complaints are sent to an arbitration tribunal, where the issues are not effectively or timely resolved. In the 4 1/2 years from 2010 to August of 2014 the Ministry of Labor has only imposed 38 sanctions for attempts against the right to organize unions, a mere drop of water in an ocean of such restrictive actions.
13. The government of Colombia committed itself to providing protection to union leaders and activists. Yet the fact that no labor leader under protection by the government through its protection program has been murdered fails to show adequate protection provided to union leaders. In fact, since the creation of the protection program in 1998 1,375 labor union members have been killed, and 105 have been murdered since the LAP entered into effect. Even with an increase in the number of judicial police to assist public prosecutors in cases of violence against union organizers or members, this increase has not meant an important advance in reducing impunity for crimes against them. Between 1977 and 2014 a total of 3,064 labor union members were murdered.
14. The government of Colombia has not effectively presented to the public and discussed the LAP measures, their implementation and effects, and the government has not effectively promoted public debate about the effects of the LAP.
In conclusion, the report cites a lack of political will by Colombian government leaders to apply fully the measures of the LAP, impeding the accomplishment of the hoped-for effects. In short, the effects of the LAP have been marginal and it has not established a tendency for change in the prioritized sectors. Although the workers’ actions and the technical assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO) have stood out, the majority of businesses have resisted applying recommended measures and the government institutions’ response has been insufficient. The implementation of the LAP is half done; what has been implemented to date is valuable, but it is necessary to persist to achieve the desired goals. The objectives underlying the LAP were, have been and continue to be very important, and it is worthwhile to continue to work for its full implementation and answer its challenges.