Trade and International Affairs

Canadian unions stand against worker rights abuses in Colombia

May 16, 2016

Before it was signed in 2008, unions in both countries raised serious concerns about the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA). At the time, the Canadian government argued the agreement would help improve Colombia’s labour and human rights record. However, monitoring has made it increasingly clear that the Colombian government is not living up to its obligations to protect fundamental workers’ and human rights.

“Colombia has long been one of the most dangerous countries in the world to exercise labour rights. Since the Canada-Colombia Labour Cooperation Agreement (LCA) has been in force, conditions for Colombian workers have actually gotten worse in many industries. Workers attempting to exercise their rights have suffered at least 1,466 threats and acts of violence, including 99 assassinations, 6 kidnappings and 955 death threats,” said Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff.

Human rights abuses in Colombia were so rampant that before signing agreements, both the US and Canadian government pushed the Government of Colombia to enact new laws and policies to protect workers. However, the evidence shows that abuses continue. Illegal forms of outsourcing and subcontracting have increased 10 percent. No one has been convicted for criminal violations of freedom of association, and discrimination against trade unionists continues.

Canadian companies operating in Colombia are not above these practices. For example, Pacific Rubiales is a Canadian-based extractive company registered in Colombia as Meta Petroleum Corp. In 2011, Colombian unions report Pacific Rubiales dismissed 1,100 workers for trying to unionize to address issues like health and safety. There are also reports of Colombia’s anti-riot police (ESMAD) being used to intimidate workers and violently suppress pro-union gatherings.

In a public submission to government, the CLC and three Colombian union confederations ask that the Government of Canada invoke ministerial consultations to ensure the Government of Colombia “takes all measures necessary to amend its laws, regulations and procedures in accordance with ILO fundamental labour rights and address the legal, institutional, and practical obstacles to the effective enforcement of labour laws and access to justice.”

“The Canadian government cannot continue to stand by Colombia as a privileged trading partner while these human rights abuses occur,” Yussuff added.

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