Standing Up for Labour Rights in Medellin, Colombia

The Frontlines delegation spent a day and a half in Medellin, Colombia – most of it in the company of FENALTRASE – Antioquia, the provincial branch of the national federation of state workers. We have been working together with FENALTRASE Antioquia for several years and three years ago began to jointly support a training program for their workers with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). FENALTRASE brings together 14 public sector unions in Antioquia. The training workshops were designed to help their members prepare for collective bargaining with the state sector, a fundamental right that has been denied to most public sector workers in Colombia.

FENALTRASE-Antioquia members reporting on their current situation and how the training workshops are contributing to their work as union leaders. Photo: Josh Berson

Among the issues that they are working to change:

  1. Contracting out of the Public Service: In most sectors of the public service in Colombia, between 70 – 80% of the labour force are workers on contract. The result is that these workers have no benefits, no job security, lower wages and no protection from abuse. This situation is so critical that eliminating sub-contractors, known as CTAs or workers cooperatives, was one of the perquisites for the US to sign the free trade agreement with Colombia. Although CTAs are now officially illegal in Colombia, the practice continues unimpeded.
  2. Collective Bargaining: Colombia has only recently given in to pressure from unions, the ILO and others international bodies and agreed to recognize the right of public sector workers to bargain collectively. So far, the results are negligible, with public employers ignoring or responding extremely slowly to union attempts to come to the bargaining table.
  3. Threats and Violence: Violence against trade unionists in Colombia remains a huge obstacle to unions trying to organize in a workplace. Few people want to risk their jobs, much less their lives to join a union, even when they realize their basic labour rights are being trampled. Colombian unionists continue to push for an end to violence against them and an end to the nearly complete impunity that blankets the more than 2,500 trade unionists assassinated in the last 25 years.

The Frontlines Initiative, a joint project of PSAC, NUPGE, CUPW and CUPE to work in solidarity with public sector workers and other human rights defenders in Colombia, sent a delegation to Colombia between March 7 and 17. CoDev works together with the Frontline unions in support of this work.

FENALTRASE-Antioquia affiliate: Hospital workers at the Medellin General Hospital organize an information demonstration outside the hospital to protest the loss of benefits. Photo: Josh Berson

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