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Business

Unions say Colombia's Not Enforcing U.S. Trade Deal Labor Standards

The free trade deal was to guarantee Colombian workers the right to freely unionize and collectively bargain with employers

Demonstrators take part in May Day protests in Cali, Colombia, photo: Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga
2 years ago

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Colombian labor unions said the Colombian government failed to enforce worker protections in a free trade agreement with the United States, raising questions about similar provisions in a massive pan-Pacific deal.

The complaint, to be filed with a division of the U.S. Labor Department, said threats and acts of violence against trade unionists in Colombia were neither properly investigated nor prosecuted, according to an advance copy that Reuters saw on Monday.

The AFL-CIO and four Colombian unions said in the complaint that since the U.S.-Colombian trade deal took effect in 2011, some 99 Colombian workers and worker advocates were killed as they tried to exercise their rights. Six workers were kidnapped, and 955 death threats were received, the complaint said.

The unions, which also include Colombia’s USO for oil workers and Sintrainagro for farm workers, also said the Colombian government ignored protections for workers who want to unionize and allowed the rampant use of labor subcontractors that obscure the direct relationship between companies and those who perform their work.

The complaint said the oil and sugar sectors were among the businesses where workers remain oppressed.

“The failure to enforce fundamental labor rights artificially distorts the cost of labor in the oil sector because Colombian companies face different conditions of competition than they would face were the laws effectively enforced,” the unions said in the complaint to be filed with the Labor Department’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs.

The free trade deal was to guarantee Colombian workers the right to freely unionize and collectively bargain with employers. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal has similar provisions but also requires all 12 members, which include Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Peru, to establish minimum wages, working hours and occupational safety requirements.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the TPP labor provisions negotiated last year a “near carbon copy” of those in the Colombian trade deal and said they, too, would probably fail, driving down wages and standards in the United States

Four years after the U.S.-Colombia trade deal took effect, anti-union blacklists persist, 99 more worker advocates have been assassinated and employers continue to create obstacles to workers’ right to unionize.”

— Richard Trumka, president of AFL-CIO

He said Congress should reject the TPP and “not rely on empty promises that Mexico, Malaysia and Vietnam will eventually protect working people.”

DAVID LAWDER

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