Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Colombia retains top spot as most dangerous place to be a trade unionist

There seems no chance of Colombia losing top spot as the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. As a result the need for solidarity with some of the bravest people on the planet is more urgently needed than ever. Unite is one of 40 national trade unions affiliated to Justice for Colombia (JFC) and urges all members to consider offering the organisation their support.

On January 28, Juan Munoz, a prominent SINTRAINAGRO member involved in the union’s struggle against labour contractors and the La Cabana sugar mill was murdered as he boarded a bus to take him to work in the nearby sugar cane fields. The South American state has in the past 20 years seen over 2,500 trade unionists murdered. 

Hundreds have also disappeared, including Henry Diaz, a member of the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers’ union to which Unite is the sister union. On April 18 2012, Henry’s clothes were discovered on a road linking two army checkpoints. The following month the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights awarded him ‘precautionary measures’, thus requiring the Colombian government to find and protect him.

As there is still currently no news on Mr Diaz’s whereabouts then there is naturally grave concern that he has been assassinated in order to silence him.  A call for justice for Henry Diaz was made on February 27, when British trade unionists and lawyers, assembled at the TUC. Those present included Ivan Monckton, Unite rural executive member, who said: “We should do everything we can to pressurise the Colombian government into finding out what has happened to Henry Diaz and support all trade unionists fighting for workers rights in the country.” 

The IndustriALL Global Union was founded with the backing of Unite on 19 June 2012 and represents 50 million workers in 140 countries. The union met the Colombian ambassador in Geneva on 4 March 2013  to raise its concerns on the situation facing trade unionists in Colombia. 

The threats made against Sintracarbon trade union leaders, attempting to negotiate a 3% pay rise and improved conditions for outsourced workers at the Carbones del Cerrejon mining company, owned by transnational companies Anglo American, BHP Bilton and Xstrata-Glencore, was just one of many issues aired. Workers took strike action in February and negotiations are currently ongoing.

According to Fernando Lopes, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, the meeting with Ambassador Ms Alicia Victoria Arango Olmos was “hard and frank and we will continue to support Colombian workers and fight for the government to protect workers’ rights in Colombia.”

Olmos promised to take the issues that were raised to the government. This is headed by President Juan Manuel Santos, who has previously promised government protection for labour and human rights activists. However last year, the Colombian largest union confederation, the CUT, reported that the government had reduced funding for protection, including to Aidee Moreno, who is head of the FENSUAGRO’s human rights department.

As a result Unite last year heavily criticised signatories’ to the US/Colombia Free Trade Agreement that labour rights had ‘significantly’ improved calling it “an apparent lack of understanding of the reality on the ground in Colombia.”

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