AFL-CIO opposes US-Colombia trade deal – Colombian workers are being denied their rights


The AFL-CIO, along with labour and human rights advocates from around the world have opposed the United States–Colombia Free Trade Agreement, arguing that Colombia is not an appropriate trade agreement partner because of its history of denying workers’ rights.

The union pointed to a recent incident at the Colombian air shipping firm Tampa Cargo, which is in partnership with the Colombian airline Aviancaas, as an illustration of how workers are underpaid while their freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining continue to be denied.

The practice of subcontracting labour to avoid union representation and cut costs continues to be a problem in Colombia, despite commitments made under the Labour Action Plan agreed upon by Colombia and the US in April.

The inadequacy of the plan was highlighted again this month when Tampa Cargo laid off 56 security workers with the intent of seeking a contract with Seguridad Visep a company that currently provides security work for Aviancay.

Tampa Cargo claimed that as a cargo transport airline it cannot have security employees but this is despite the fact that during its 50-year history before merging with Avianca, the company has always had security workers.

Workers at Tampa Cargo founded their union, Association of Tampa Workers, or Asotratampa, in order to counteract the aggressive ‘outsourcing’ policies the company has implemented since it merged with Avianca in 2010.

Gustavo Reyes, president of the union, says that Tampa Cargo required the workers to take voluntary retirement as a precondition for not lowering their severance pay.

Tampa Cargo reportedly gave the laid-off workers the option of working for Seguridad Visep where they wouldhave worse working conditions, with a lower salary and no benefits.

However, the union reports that Seguridad Visep already has hired the majority of their new workforce, who are largely workers with little airport security experience.

Making the situation worse, 14 out of the 56 workers laid off were part of the union’s base, dealing a serious blow to the union. After that loss, the union now has only 56 unionized members out of the 700 Tampa Cargo workers.

AFL-CIO said this latest attempt to subcontract jobs to undermine unionized employees underscores the need for sustained pressure on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to organize and to uphold its promises under the Labour Action Plan.

Colombia is known as a notoriously dangerous nation for trade unionists to opperate with over 4,000 union members and leaders killed between 1986 and 2012 often by the military or government backed guerrillas. Very few people are ever prosecuted or convicted for these murders with an impunity rate of 95% acording to human rights charity Amnesty International.

The AFL-CIO says as long as the United States fails to put pressure on Colombia to meet its obligations under the Labour Action Plan, trade unionists in Colombia will continue to risk their lives when committing themselves to organizing for better wages, benefits and job security.

Meanwhile in North Carolina residents prepared for the final ‘Moral Monday’ on July 29 against ‘extreme’ Republican legislation.

The AFL-CIO said in a press statement: ‘The North Carolina legislature has moved to the extreme right in the 2013 session, passing a series of laws that assault the rights of the state’s residents.

‘The session comes to an end this week, but the damage from the laws that the Republican-led body has passed, and the governor is likely to sign, will be around for many years to come.

‘Among the most egregious things passed this session:

• The most extreme voter suppression law in the country, and in decades.

• One of the most aggressive attacks on public education in the state’s recent memory.

• The assumption that anyone receiving government assistance is a drug user.

• The repeal of the Racial Justice Act.

• The unprecedented rejection of federal unemployment benefits for the state’s struggling workers.

• A pointless ban on Sharia law.

• Increased salaries for the governor’s cabinet.’

MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, weighed in on the session, saying: ‘Legislators may be drunk with power now, but I hope they got some aspirin handy because they’re gonna have a heck of a hangover when they realize their perceived power is temporary.

‘In every corner of this state, we will organize, and we will mobilize.

‘We will agitate, and we will demonstrate. And we will keep the memory of these injustices alive for November 2014, 2016 and beyond.

‘You see, any restrictions they put on voting are temporary.

‘These district lines they are hiding behind are temporary.

‘The only things permanent are the pursuit of justice and the power of the people.

‘And there is no amount of legislation and there is no amount of Art Pope’s money that can change that.’

AFL-CIO reported that, ‘To date 900 North Carolina’s residents have been arrested for rallying against the Republicans attempting to make North Caroline the state with the most extreme set of policies in the country.

‘The series of “Moral Monday” rallies have been important in getting the word out on what the legislature is doing.’

l Last Friday the SEIU union issued a statement demanding, ‘just how long can lawmakers avoid addressing the real struggles of American workers?’

It said: ‘In the past two years, the leadership of the House of Representatives has not allowed a single vote on legislation to address the plight of America’s 12 million unemployed.

‘It’s time for lawmakers in Washington to stop making excuses. Florida Congresswoman, Frederica Wilson has answered that call.

‘Early this week she introduced an updated version of President Obama’s American Jobs Act, which would have created 1.9 million jobs and boosted economic growth by two per cent if passed when originally proposed two years ago.

‘The bill would save jobs threatened by the reckless budget cuts, revive household spending and small business hiring, and restore hope to the long-term unemployed.

‘The American Jobs Act will do the most for those hit hardest by the economic crisis – the long-term unemployed. At least 4.4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months.

‘Not only has this group lost their benefits – they’re draining their retirement savings in order to pay for food, housing, and healthcare for their families.

‘This bill extends unemployment benefits, provides new tax credits to firms that hire workers who have been out of work for six months or longer, introduces innovative new re-training programs, and bans employers from discriminating against the long-term unemployed in hiring decisions.

‘In the face of reckless across-the-board budget cuts known as the Sequester, putting people back to work is the only responsible way to repair our federal budget deficit. This bill is needed now more than ever. We cannot continue to cut our way to economic growth. Let’s tell Congress to pass a serious jobs bill now.’