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CWA: Colombia Free Trade Agreement Rewards Abuse of Workers' Rights

Following House passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday night, CWA expressed deep disappointment that Congress choose to ignore the country's gross abuses of workers' rights and the deadly violence against people who fight for unionization.

The trade agreement passed 262-167, with 31 Democrats and all but nine Republicans voting in favor of it. The House also passed trade pacts with Panama and South Korea.

Fighting the Colombia pact, CWA members nationwide sent emails and wrote letters to Congress urging lawmakers to oppose it. In just the first day of the campaign, union activists made 10,175 contacts with members of Congress in 43 states.

CWA's statement said:

This seriously flawed agreement will not improve conditions for workers in Colombia and lacks the accountability and the ability to enforce its call for the protection of workers' rights.

With the approval of this agreement, the Colombian system will remain abusive to workers as the majority of workers in Colombia are classified as 'cooperativos' and contractors. This status means that 15 million of the country's 18 million workers are not eligible for workplace protections and collective bargaining, nor can they receive government-backed health care and retirement benefits that are provided to "workers."

CWA has shown, through testimonials from Colombian workers, that Telefonica, the multi-national communications firm, and Avianca, a Colombian-based airline, have taken no steps to address workers' rights. Avianca has gone so far as to require new employees to sign a voluntary benefits plan (PBV) prohibiting union membership and to verbally instruct new employees to sign on to the plan before they are permitted to sign employment contracts.

Union organizing in Colombia remains dangerous and deadly. Violence and murder are routinely used to intimidate workers from organizing and bargaining for a better life. Over the past 25 years, nearly 3,000 union activists and leaders have been murdered there, more than in all other countries combined. Last year 51 trade unionists were murdered. Yet, the Colombian conviction rate for these murders and other forms of violence against trade unionists is in the single digits.