Colombia: Anti-union Violence and Discrimination Often Remain Unpunished

A new ITUC report to coincide with the World Trade Organisation’s trade policy review of Colombia examines the country’s performance with regards to core labour standards.

The report finds excessive anti-union violence and discrimination that remains unpunished. Over recent years, hundreds of unionists have been victims of fatal attacks as well as death threats, disappearances, attempts on life and raids.

Trade unions in Colombia face constant attacks and threats that have massive effects on their membership as well as their bargaining power. Employers fail to engage in good faith collective bargaining, and the state does not protect workers who seek collective agreements or initiate a strike to pursue their demands. Bargaining power is also reduced by the large numbers of irregular and precarious workers who are barred from a long term contract.

Colombia’s laws provide insufficient protection for women, Afro-Colombians, indigenous and other groups that are frequently discriminated against, and that must deal with unequal access to employment, unequal remuneration and poor employment conditions. Moreover, activists, indigenous and peasant leaders are targeted for murder, and hundreds receive threats every year. Indigenous people and Afro-Colombians are adversely affected by the internal armed conflicts, which sometimes results in forced displacements.

Displaced persons usually find refuge in cities where their children become particularly vulnerable to street labour. In the rural areas, Afro-Colombian and indigenous children are often victims of some of the worst forms of child labour in plantations, mines and in domestic servitude. Forced labour and trafficking in persons are also problems that usually afflict displaced families, indigenous and Afro-Colombians. There are reports of women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, and many children and adults are reportedly forced into military conflict situations by illegal armed groups.

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