The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have called for immediate action in Colombia around the mistreatment of the members of ASOTRECOL, an association of ex-workers and injured workers at Colmotores, a General Motors (GM) subsidiary in Colombia.
According to ASOTRECOL workers, they have been fired illegally and their medical records have been handled illegally. GM Colmotores management and the Colombian Ministry of Labor also have denied them workers’ compensation and other benefits after being injured in the workplace.
GM Colmotores has refused to engage with Labor Ministry mediation for more than a year, during which time injured workers have led a peaceful protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. As that protest passed the one-year mark on Aug. 1, these injured workers decided to begin a hunger strike.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says:
The U.S. and Colombian governments must bring GM Colmotores into dialogue with ASOTRECOL to help facilitate a swift and fair response to the workers’ grievances….Furthermore, the Colombian Ministry of Labor must thoroughly examine General Motors’ occupational health and safety practices and the use of a collective pact in Colombia for compliance with national law and the labor provisions of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The workers note that with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO), there appeared to be a chance for a resolution this past Monday when the workers, GM management and the Labor Ministry agreed to tripartite dialogue. However, while the Colombian Ministry met separately with the workers and with management, GM management canceled their meeting with the workers, with no explanation.
“Rather than engage in a meaningful discussion about its past actions and address the workers’ documentation of violations directly, GM representatives walked away from the process when it became clear that the process could lead the Colombian Ministry of Labor to acknowledge past errors and encourage a negotiated solution,” Trumka continued.
This case is particularly disturbing since Colombia and the United States are supposedly committed to the effective implementation of the Labor Action Plan, a critical part of the recently signed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which includes “strong protection for workers’ rights.” As an AFL-CIO report found, and Colombian workers testified to last month, the Labor Action Plan has failed to stop labor and human rights violations in Colombia.
The AFL-CIO has worked extensively with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) on issues of trade union rights in Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. You can sign a petition in solidarity here.