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In Colombia, the Solidarity Center brings attention to the immense challenges that Colombian workers face from anti-union forces—harassment, death threats, and assassinations—and the courage with which they face these struggles. For more background on the Solidarity Center in Colombia, click here.

Sugar cane cutters work long hours for low pay under precarious conditions.

Colombia only recently was surpassed by Guatemala as the deadliest country in the world for union activists. In the last 20 years, 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered. Each year, more union activists are killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. But an atmosphere of impunity has ensured that only a tiny number of these murders have been prosecuted and the criminals brought to justice.

In addition to the daily threat of violence and assassination, Colombian workers are faced with the same challenges as workers worldwide: degradation of work and worker protections, anti-union privatization practices, and “cooperative” arrangements that exclude millions of workers from labor law and collective bargaining. Only 4 million of Colombia’s 18 million workers are estimated to have formal labor contracts, and more than half of those are temporary.

Although the government has made great efforts to reduce the power of armed organizations, modernize the economy and attract foreign investment, it has maintained an unresponsive policy toward labor unions. Colombian authorities have been unable or unwilling to apply laws that protect basic worker rights such as the right to form and join unions. Many employers characterize labor disputes as tantamount to seditious activity.

Make the Colombia Labor Rights Action Plan Work for Workers. April 8, 2014—As a new AFL-CIO report shows, systemic violence against Colombian workers continues and workers still face persistent employer abuses, despite the Labor Action Plan signed three years ago by Colombia and the United States.

Afro-Colombian Labor Activists Power Ahead with Dynamic Agenda. February 28, 2014—Ready to power forward with new grassroots organizing and mobilization outreach, 127 Afro-Colombian labor and community leaders met in Bogotá in recent days for the second national forum of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council (CLAF).

Colombia: Many Women Workers Face Job Discrimination. May 13, 2013—In Colombia, “even when there’s an improvement in the overall economy, women don’t see any improvement,” says Sohely Rua Catañeda. As a result, many women who are unable to secure formal employment are forced into the informal sector to support themselves and their families, laboring as domestic workers or street vendors.

Colombia: Afro-Descendant Domestic Workers Form Union. April 8, 2013—Afro-Colombian women recently launched the Union of Domestic Service Workers (Unión de Trabajadoras del Servicio Domestíco, UTRASD), the first-ever union in Colombia created entirely by Afro-descendent women.

Afro-Colombians Fighting against Discrimination at Work. March 12, 2013—Afro-Colombians are far likelier than other Colombian workers to earn less than the minimum wage and to be employed in jobs where they cannot form unions to improve their working conditions.

Human Rights Day 2012: Marking Worker Rights Worldwide. December 10, 2012—Nearly 3,000 trade union leaders have been murdered in Colombia over the past 20 years and the killing continues, with at least 15 unionists murdered so far this year.

Interview: A Colombian Sugarcane Cutter, under Threat, Fights for Rights and Respect. September 28, 2012—Sugarcane cutting is physically demanding and dangerous work. Colombian cane cutters toil in the heat, harvesting the vegetation by hand.

New Afro-Colombian Labor Council Advances Struggle for Racial Equality. July 16, 2012—The first national organization dedicated to the working conditions of Afro-descendants in Colombia was formed on July 14 in Cali.

Solidarity Center Expands Fight for Worker Justice in Colombia. July 12, 2012—The Solidarity Center has expanded its program work in Colombia, with the goal of consolidating and implementing labor reforms and formalizing labor relations for hundreds of thousands of precarious, subcontracted workers.

Visiting Mine Workers Observe Troubling Conditions in Colombian Coal Mines and Surrounding Communities. March 23, 2012—In Colombia’s coal mines, troubling health and safety risks combined with serious environmental and social justice issues create conditions reminiscent of mining in the early 20th century in the United States.

 Learn More

  • ITUC 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights in Colombia (English / Spanish).
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