Colombia

In Colombia, the Solidarity Center works with unions to protect freedom of association, end labor subcontracting and promote inclusion of women and Afro-descendant workers.

After more than five decades of civil conflict, Colombia in November 2016 began implementing peace accords between the government and the country’s largest left-wing armed group. Yet as the country struggles to instill the rule of law and access to justice, human rights abuses remain rampant.

For many years, Colombia was the most dangerous country for trade union activists, with thousands of trade unionists murdered since the 1980s and only a small fraction of the murders prosecuted. Today, Colombia remains among the top 10 most dangerous countries for union members and leaders and trade unionists are top targets for harassment, death threats and assassinations.

Seeking to end systemic violence against union members and persistent employer abuses, the governments of Colombia and the United States in 2011 signed the Labor Action Plan. By restricting employer subcontracting and outsourcing, the plan attempts to address the largest obstacles workers face in achieving rights on the job and rising out of poverty.

The Solidarity Center joins with workers and their unions to demand direct, formal hiring provided by the Labor Action Plan, trade agreements and Colombian law, and provides hands-on support through training and technical and legal assistance for workers in the five priority sectors outlined in the Labor Action Plan including ports, palm, flowers, oil, and mining, while also addressing labor violations in sugar, transport, health care, and the public sector, among others.

In the palm oil sector, for example, the Solidarity Center supports union outreach to workers, many of whom are fraudulently subcontracted, enabling employers to undermine their rights because they are not protected under Colombia’s labor laws, such as the minimum wage. In March 2018, palm oil workers formed the General Union of Third-Party Agribusiness Workers (UGTTA), now representing 1,000 members.

Some 26 percent of Colombians lived in poverty (less than $88 a month) in 2017 and Colombia has one of the highest level of social inequality in the region. Afro-Colombians are about one-quarter of the entire population, yet nearly 80 percent live in poverty and more than 30 percent have no water and sanitation services.

Afro-Colombians also suffer from exploitative working environments, and the Solidarity Center works with port workers and other Afro-descendants to improve conditions on the job. Most recently, the Solidarity Center supported the Port Workers’ Union in its struggle to formalize 3,500 illegally outsourced workers in Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest port, and assisted the Buenaventura community’s efforts to achieve government investment in the city, which lacks reliable electricity, clean water and other fundamental services.

Meanwhile, with increasing migration from Venezuela to Colombia due to economic instability and violence, the Solidarity Center has provided legal assistance and labor rights education for Venezuelan migrants to help members of this vulnerable community obtain economic self-sufficiency, food security and citizenship rights.

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