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Union federation ‘deeply disappointed’ with US-Colombia labor deal

posted by Adriaan Alsema

Colombia news - AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest union federation, has said it is “deeply disappointed” with a deal brokered between Colombia and the U.S. on reforming labor laws and the improving the protection of union workers in the Andean nation.

The Washington-Bogota deal makes way for the possible ratification of a free trade agreement with Colombia, four and a half years after the deal was signed by the two countries’ governments.

U.S. unions have always opposed the US-Colombia FTA and find that the new labor pact “does not go nearly far enough in laying out concrete benchmarks for progress in the areas of violence and impunity, nor does it address many of the ways in which Colombian labor law falls short of international standards.”

“There is no guarantee that the terms of it will in fact lead to a reduction in violence, and no backup plan to delay implementation if the violence and impunity continue. Furthermore, the action plan is a stand-alone agreement, not connected to the benefits conferred in the trade agreement. Once the trade agreement is ratified by Congress and implemented, the U.S. government will have no leverage whatsoever to enforce its terms in the event that the terms are not implemented as agreed,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on the labor organization’s website.

The United Steelworkers union, one of the most vociferous American opponents of an FTA said Thursday in a press release it was “both disappointed and outraged” by the labor deal.

“The reality on the ground in Colombia has not changed since the [free trade] agreement was first signed. A record 52 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. Since 1986, only five percent of more than 2,800 union killings have been prosecuted, making impunity the standard for justice in the killings. This year alone, six unionists have been killed in Colombia, including two in the past week, even as the U.S. and Colombia were finalizing their new accord over the FTA,” said the USW.

The Switzerland-based UNI Global Union said Wednesday it “had yet to be convinced” the situation of Colombian workers will improve, following a meeting with Colombian union leaders and Vice President Angelino Garzon, a former labor rights activist.

According to the UNI, Garzon told the union leaders that “the government will bring its laws into compliance with the International Labor Organization, is committed to the development of social dialogue, will devote more resources to protection of trade union leaders, will launch a new national dialogue on respect for human rights and will change laws on outsourcing and the use of laws on labor cooperatives.”

Local labor leaders seemed unimpressed by the government’s promises. According to the Colombian union representatives, four labor rights workers have been killed in Colombia so far this year. One of them told the international union organization that, despite improvement, “it is easier to form a paramilitary organization than a union.”

The deal between the administrations of U.S. President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos paves the way for an FTA that according to Washington can result in an increase of more than $1 billion in U.S. exports to Colombia. Obama so far has refused to present the FTA before congress amid concerns over human and labor rights concerns.

The two leaders are meeting on Thursday to discuss the free trade pact.

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