Inter-American Commission to examine freedom of association in Chile

The Chilean government is set to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to respond to ongoing, systematic human and trade union rights violations that date back to the Pinochet regime. The case offers an added incentive for the next government of Chile to commit to reforming the labour legislation and finally turn the page on a dark period of history.

The petition was submitted to the IACHR in August 2013 by Chile’s national trade union centre CUT-Chile (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), together with a report establishing the links between the climate of terror and repression under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and his introduction of a new economic regime that included radical changes to the labour legislation.

The Chilean government has been summoned to a IACHR hearing to respond to the trade union organisations’ complaints regarding the multiple violations of organising and collective bargaining rights in the country. The trade union organisations have accused Sebastián Piñera’s government of failing to implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendations on collective bargaining, especially in the public sector.

Under the present labour legislation, workers are not allowed to organise by sector. In contrast with other countries in the region, such as Brazil and Argentina, trade unions in Chile are weak and fragmented, precisely because they are only allowed to organise at company level.

"Chile registered a sharp fall in union membership rates as a result of the labour law reforms. Current membership stands at no more than eight per cent of the workforce, as compared with 30 per cent in 1973," indicates the petition.

The country has the lowest trade union membership rate of all the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The hearing on the right to freedom of association in Chile will be held on 29 October 2013, in Washington, United States, during the 149th period of IACHR sessions.