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Monday, February 04, 2008

Colombiaan Trade Union Movement reaffirms its position on FTA with Condoleeza Rice

( Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN  volunteer translator)

Medellín, January 2008

[Decent work – Work with meaning – 25 years – 1982-2007]
MEDELLÍN: The Colombian trade union movement reaffirms its position on the Free Trade Treaty at a meeting with the US Secretary of State and Members of Congress.

AIL – 24 January 2008. Four points will occupy the meeting between trade union federations and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to discuss the Colombian trade union movement’s position on the Free Trade Treaty with the United States this Thursday, January 24, in the city of Medellín.

The presidents of the three workers’ federations will state their position on approval of the FTT, the march to free the February 4 kidnap victims, and the labor agenda before Congress. They will also insist on the human rights situation of trade unionists in Colombia.
These issues are directly connected with the Free Trade Treaty, which has not yet been ratified precisely because of the hostile situation in Colombia which makes trade union activities impossible.
The FTT jeopardizes employment and industry
The positions on this issue are clear, given the economic situation in Colombia and the support of trade unions which are not representative of the sector as a whole.
“The trade union movement ratifies its position that the FTT is unacceptable and should be rejected, because it is impossible for Colombia with its technological and academic inequalities, especially in agriculture, to sign such a treaty. For example, while in the United States, one hectare of maize yields 11 or 12 tons a year, in Colombia it produces 4. This will put rural employment and security at risk in Colombia if maize is imported from the United States”, explains Boris Montes De Oca, Secretary-General of Colombia’s trade union confederation, CUT Nacional.
Other reasons are the closures of Colombian firms, the increasing numbers of Cooperativas de Trabajo Asociado labor outsourcing cooperatives and their growing presence in the government health and education sectors. These strategies are weakening the trade union movement, which today accounts for only 4% of the population in employment, i.e. 18 million employed persons.
“Trade union support is relatively low. The trade union federations have 800,000 members, of whom only 2,000 support the FTT, and these members have a personal commercial interest in this treaty or belong to unions formed by companies, like the EPM Employees’ Association”, adds Carlos Julio Díaz, president of the CUT’s sub-directorate for Antioquia.
Trade union legislation?
The legislative agenda being pursued on these issues is directly related to breaking the deadlock in the negotiations.
At the moment two bills and two decrees are before the Colombian Congress seeking to guarantee basic trade union freedoms, such as the right to strike, regulation of the  Cooperativas de Trabajo Associado, civil servants’ right to collective bargaining and trade union membership, bearing in mind the discussions in the US Congress on approval of this treaty.
“At the moment, these four draft laws have not been discussed with the trade unions, in spite of the foreign missions and the tripartite agreement signed two years ago guaranteeing respect in this regard”, clarifies Apecides Alvis, President of CTC.
These subjects will be included in the ILO’s recommendations to the Colombian government, in an agenda responding to 4 of the 16 points raised by the trade union federations.
“Nonetheless, the proposals do not meet the international demands”, asserts José Luciano Sanín Vásquez, Director-General of Colombia’s trade union school, Escuela Nacional Sindical.
Trade union rights to the defense
“On February 4, we will be taking action for trade union human rights, remembering the 2534 murders of trade unionists in 20 years, differentiating ourselves from the march against kidnapping, calling for peace and the humanitarian agreement and inviting Colombians to defend employment in Colombia”, Tarscio Mora, official of CUT Nacional.
The stand against the FTT will be supported by a delegation from the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) which will be coming to Colombia on February 11 to accompany Colombia’s trade unionists in their opposition to ratification of the FTT.

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