PITTSBURGH, May 17, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard today issued the following statement:
"The United Steelworkers (USW) strongly supports the joint petition filed by the AFL-CIO and four Colombian unions with the Labor Department yesterday alleging that Colombia is not meeting its worker-rights obligations under the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement.
"As the petition demonstrates, Colombian workers are still at risk of brutal repression, including kidnapping, arrest and assassination, for attempting to organize unions and exercise their right to bargain collectively. The Labor Action Plan has simply failed in its stated goal of protecting workers' rights to freedom of association in Colombia.
"This failure calls into question the efficacy of similar labor plans in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other so-called free trade agreements. The lesson is clear: countries must comply with core labor rights before we give them access to U.S. markets.
"The USW has been involved in fighting for labor rights in Colombia for more than 15 years and works closely with the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) which represents workers in the oil sector in Colombia. Through Workers Uniting, the global union formed by the USW and UNITE in the United Kingdom and Ireland, we have supported USO's campaigns to organize workers in the oil industry.
"The USW shares the concern of the petitioners that, four years after the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), labor conditions have actually gotten worse for workers in many industries. This is despite the fact that the FTA contains a Labor Action Plan (LAP) which was supposed to curb violence and labor rights violations.
"In the four years since the United States and Colombia signed the agreement, Colombian workers have suffered approximately 1,500 threats and acts of violence, including at least 99 assassinations of union activists and nearly 1,000 death threats. There have been no convictions for criminal violations of freedom of association, and discrimination against trade unionists continues. Meanwhile, only one person has been convicted for murdering a trade unionist.
"In addition, illegal forms of outsourcing and subcontracting have increased by 10 percent in Colombia despite the fact that the LAP purports to end such practices.
"For example, at the oil extraction facilities of Pacific Rubiales, 73 percent of the workers are still informally employed, many through labor intermediaries, and therefore lack access to basic labor rights, stable employment and social security. The USO's efforts to organize the employees at Pacific Rubiales have been met with the mass firings of thousands of union supporters, arrests of union activists and state violence against pro-union protesters.
"The administration should send a clear message to the Colombian government: comply with the labor provisions of the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement immediately or risk losing the benefits of that agreement.
"The Obama Administration also needs to act quickly on this complaint to help build confidence that labor rights in trade agreements are a priority. Action on labor rights has only occurred as a result of formal petitions being filed by the AFL-CIO. In each case, the limited action that has occurred has taken years and is far from sufficient. Without full, aggressive and quick enforcement, workers will continue to suffer from trade deals while the one percent reaps all the profits."
The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in a wide range of industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors. For more information: http://www.usw.org/.
CONTACT: Ben Davis (412) 562-2501
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SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)