Trade deals: US-Colombia FTA ratified, but will it help Colombian workers?
Trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea were ratified last night. Progress to protect Colombian trade union members has been made, but the murder rate of Colombian workers remains high.
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“Delaying ratification of the FTA led to some positive actions, such as the creation of a special team of prosecutors to investigate trade unionist killings,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas of Human Rights Watch. “But given that impunity remains the norm for these cases, the country still has a long way to go before Colombia can be considered safe for trade union activity.”Skip to next paragraph
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Although overall killings are down in Colombia, the country remains a highly dangerous place for trade unionists. The ENS reports that in 2010 there were 51 killings of union members, 22 homicide attempts, and 397 threats. So far this year 23 have been killed, according to ENS statistics.
In a letter to Colombian Attorney General Viviane Morales this month, Human Rights Watch said a main reason for the ongoing violence is the “chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence.” While applauding the convictions in 185 cases of unionists murdered, the rights group noted that this represents less than 10 percent of the recorded killings in the past 25 years.
'Nothing's happened' in Colombia
In a final push to win convince US lawmakers to approve the trade deal, President Obama and Juan Manuel Santos in April signed a nine-point “labor action plan” that aims to address issues surrounding restrictions on collective bargaining, sub-contracting labor models that critics say strip workers of labor rights, and the continued security threats faced by union members.
But while the US certified that Colombia had complied with a majority of the measures stipulated in the plan, labor leaders in Colombia say there has been little change on the ground.
“The Labor Action Plan created many expectations for change, which have yet to materialize,” the ENS said in a recent report.
“Nothing’s happened,” says Oscar Suarez, a leader of the Sintrabrinks union of workers at the US-based Brinks Security, as he marched through the streets of Bogotá in a labor protest Oct. 7. “Ten years ago our union had 455 members, today we have 110 because of the subcontracting and anti-union environment. None of that has changed.”
“If with all the pressure so little has changed, what’s it going to be like without the pressure?” says. Mr. Sanín.
On the floor of the House, Democratic representatives argued that not enough progress has been made to reward Colombia with a trade agreement but they lost out to a bipartisan majority that voted 262-167 to approve it. The measure was approved 66-33 in the Senate.
But activists have not given up on pressing for more progress. “The struggle continues,” said Mr. Kovalik, who said the US labor movement, a major supporter of Mr. Obama in his 2008 campaign, could still try to apply pressure for more progress in Colombia during the implementation phase of the trade pact. And since Obama is up for reelection next year, “We’re going to have a hell of a lot of leverage,” he said.