“Lawyers have a social responsibility”

Few attorneys dream of working with union issues in Colombia - the world’s most dangerous country for trade unionists. Yet newly graduated lawyers Ana Maria Amado and Eduardo Chavez, who have worked as interns at the LO and TCO Labour Law Development Program in Colombia, stand out. “We have a passion for union issues.”

The sun is strong and the air feels stuffy. We are in the city of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast in northern Colombia, a popular tourist destination where large hotel complexes line the beach.

In a narrow alley, far beyond the tower blocks on the beach, Eduardo Chavez and Ana Maria Amado are just about to have a lunch break.

Yesterday they took a flight to Santa Marta from the capital city Bogotá, but they did not travel to do sightseeing. Instead it was a two-day legal seminar, organized by the Labour Law Development Program (LLDP), that caught their attention.

“The lawyers who are going to speak at the seminar are really good and I see it as a chance to learn more about the trade union policy in the country” says Ana Maria.

Ana Maria and Eduardo are both newly graduated lawyers in their mid-twenties that have worked as interns for the LLDP.

The idea of the program, which LO (The Swedish Trade Union Confederation) and TCO (The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees) operate in conjunction with the Colombian confederations CUT and CTC, is to contribute in the development of a more efficient legal system in the country.

“When I started working with trade union issues I developed a passion for it and I’ve learned a lot” says Ana Maria.

“To be able to attend this seminar we paid our own airline tickets. It’s about wanting to work with these issues, not becoming rich, because it is not a very lucrative field.”

Just under four percent of Colombia’s workforce is unionized. Violence and threats against trade unionists is common, and the anti-union policy in the country makes it difficult to form trade unions, as well as to conduct collective bargaining.

Most public universities in Colombia don’t provide education regarding trade union rights, the subject is not even included in the courses about labour law, says Eduardo.

“This makes it difficult for the students to develop an interest for trade unions rights” he says.
“To work with union issues is also stigmatized”

Ana Maria’s and Eduardo’s plates are empty and lunch is over. It’s time to go back to the seminar – and to continue the struggle for trade union rights.

“My dream is to implement structural change in Colombia. Lawyers have a social responsibility, it is something that I’ve learned during my internship” says Ana Maria.

Written by Lina Karlsson (LO-TCO