Ceremony to mark the signing of the ceasefire. Photo: EU Delegation to Cuba (under Creative Commons)
Peace deal brings hope to trade unionists in Colombia
Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist. It has become a murder capital for trade union activists and continues to feature prominently on the International Trade Union Confederation’s annual Global Rights Index, which names the world’s top ten worst countries for workers’ rights. Last year 22 people were killed in Colombia because of their trade union activity mostly by right-wing paramilitaries in collusion with security forces, despite worldwide condemnation from the international trade union movement. Other violations of workers’ human rights include threats, displacement, militarisation of workplaces, declaration of strikes as illegal and arbitrary detention of trade unionists.
Despite this on-going tumult plaguing the country’s working people, a momentous shift in political activity has sparked a glimmer of hope for the many trade union activists in Colombia.
On 23 June the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) guerrillas signed an historic cease-fire agreement in Havana in the presence of Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, and other heads of state of Latin America. The peace agreement brings to an end more than 50 years of conflict that has cost some 200,000 lives, and the displacement of more than 6 million people.
This peace accord commits both sides to agree on the surrender of weapons, security assurances and the fight against criminal organisations responsible for killings and massacres; that both parties express their commitment to contribute to the emergence of a new work culture towards a national consensus in which all sectors commit to an exercise of the policy of democracy and civilised debate; and the parties agree to establish a tripartite monitoring mechanism comprising the police forces of Colombia, the FARC-EP and an international component with UN members, and especially of the CELAC.
The international trade union movement has welcomed the ceasefire agreement, Sharon Burrow ITUC General Secretary, said:
“Negotiations to consolidate the cease-fire in the lead-up to the ratification plebiscite must be inclusive with a political settlement that is based on full respect for human rights, an economy which delivers decent jobs and crucially, an end the war on trade unionists. Thousands of union leaders have been murdered, simply because they stood up for fundamental rights.
Ending the pervasive targeting of trade unionists and embedding respect for fundamental workers’ rights are essential to a sustainable democracy and economic justice. Colombia is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are the key to tackling inequality, and social dialogue must be at the centre of the process from the beginning. Colombia’s trade unions have been strong advocates for peace throughout the conflict, along with other civil society organisations. They now have a major role to play in consolidating the ceasefire and charting a new direction for the country.”
Although the peace agreement was signed over two months ago it still needs to be ratified in a Brexit style referendum, likely to take place in September. Most Colombians who plan to vote say they would approve the accords, but some analysts warn that widespread hostility to the Farc could lead to a surprise outcome.
This peace deal is the result of many years of negotiations between both sides and brings closer like never before the end of the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia for over five decades. However, there is still a long way to go and the TUC hopes this new era of impending political stability will pave the way for unions in Colombia to be able to organise freely and exercise their rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining without the fear of future death threats and assassinations. We will continue to act in solidarity with our sister trade unions the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the Confederación de Trabajadores de Colombia (CTC) and the Confederación General del Trabajo – (CGT) and as active members of the International Labour Organisation, we will continue to put pressure on the Colombian government to end violations of human and union rights of working people in Colombia.