Although addressed from Recalca to the US, this text is relevant to the current Canada-Colombia and E.U.-Andean Nations free trade negotiations
Colombian Action Network in response to Free Trade, Recalca
Bogotá, 1 April 2008
The Uribe government has spent millions of dollars on an enormous lobbying campaign in the United States aimed at pressuring the Democratic Party to approve a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would solely benefit US transnational companies. But, behind this campaign there have been deceptions.
Far from improving the working conditions of Colombians, the government forces workers to find employment – to the extent that this would be possible – in the worst conditions, forcing half of them into situations in which they have neither hope of job security nor social security. In the same way, many are contracted through Associated Work Cooperatives [Cooperativas de Trabajo Asociado (CTAs)], which systematically ignore labor rights guaranteed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and, as undignified forms of employment, are principally promoted by the national government itself: the majority of public health institutions are using CTAs to contract their personnel, including doctors and surgeons. The labor reform law, developed by Uribe in 2002, in which the government promised the creation of 160,000 jobs each year, was seriously called into question by the Constitutional Court, because far from being able to generate employment, it has been detrimental to workers’ quality of life.
The deregulation of labor standards has led to the negation of the rights of association and collective bargaining. The level of unionization is the lowest since 1947: 850,000 unionized workers out of an economically active population of 18.5 million. The number of workers protected by collective agreements is less than 300,000 out of a population of 8 million wage-earners. There also exists the phenomenon of labor outsourcing, which has acquired particular relevance with its legal endorsement by the government of President Uribe. Labor and social security counter-reforms have been completed, making impossible access to rights such as: pensions, unemployment insurance, job stability, vacation time, healthcare, individual work contracts, apprenticeship contracts, among others.
In February of this year, 2,500 workers from five African palm plantations located in Puerto Wilches (Santander) began a strike that lasted one month. Their demands illuminate the situation of the country: direct contracts and the elimination of the CTAs, transportation to the worksite, a lunch hour, the provision of protective work clothing and footwear, and family assistance. Of the 4,000 workers in these plantations, only 600 have individual contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The remaining 3400 are contracted through the CTA, receiving a monthly income of US$120, far below the legal minimum wage. Similarly, 1000 workers from the Cerromatoso plant were on strike for more than a month, demanding that BHP Billington directly contract more than 2,500 workers. These struggles are exemplary of those of other workers and must be amplified.
If the Democratic Party in the United States is sensitive to the pressure of its own union allies and the well-publicized evidence, the FTA should not even be put to a vote, given that the labor conditions imposed by the Colombian government are far from respecting and protecting labor rights.