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AFL-CIO Calls on U.S. and Colombian Governments To Encourage Negotiations with GM Subsidiary and Their Workers

Trumka additionally calls for Colombia to investigate GM safety record in Colombia

(Washington, August 10) The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions call 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 AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

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 have also  denied them workers’ compensation and access to early retirement or other benefits after being injured in the workplace.  When GM Colmotores would not agree for over a year to engage with Labor Ministry mediation, the workers began a hunger strike in front of the U.S. embassy in Bogotá on August 1, 2012. 

“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,” said Trumka. “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 to the dispute this past Monday when the workers, GM management and the Labor Ministry agreed to tripartite dialogue.  Though, while the Colombian Ministry met separately with the workers and with management, they were unable or unwilling to convene a meeting in which workers and GM would exchange proposals directly. 

According to people familiar with the meeting, GM reportedly provided the Colombian Ministry only a generic defense of their human and labor-rights compliance and even expressed resentment to being asked to explain the role of GM management in the falsification of documents relating to the firings of chronically ill GM workers which led to the suspension of a government labor inspector. The remedies proposed by ASOTRECOL workers were not discussed. The Colombian Ministry notified workers that the promised meeting with GM would not take place and offered neither an explanation of the cancellation nor a future meeting.

“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.

According to Trumka, this case is particularly disturbing since Colombia and the U.S. are supposedly committed to the effective implementation of the Labor Action Plan, a critical part of the U.S. Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Experts note that beyond the problems faced by this small group of workers, GM employs the vast majority of its workforce in Colombia through a collective pact, a unilateral form of setting wages and conditions which workers at the plant consider to be a violation of freedom of association that denies negotiation or dialogue. As part of the Labor Action Plan, Colombia agreed to eliminate the use of such pacts when they are used to undermine freedom of association and other fundamental rights. 

“In their mistreatment of ASOTRECOL and their use of a collective pact, GM Colmotores has chosen to operate in a way that places in doubt their commitment to comply with national laws in addition to international standards. This indifference to the rights of workers also sends a clear message about compliance to other employers in Colombia, a country in which these rights are regularly violated,” Trumka concluded.

Contact: Luis Santoyo-Mejia (202) 637-5018

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