AFL-CIO Turns Up Heat on Columbia

The largest U.S. labor organization on Monday accused the Colombian government of failing to take required steps to protect workers under a four-year-old free trade agreement - proof that the White House's proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is unlikely to improve conditions for workers in Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, the group said.  The request for an investigation puts President Barack Obama on the spot as he seeks to win congressional approval of TPP by the end of the year. His administration issued a report just last month that said Colombia had made "meaningful progress" across a number of labor concerns. But if it were to reject the petition filed by the AFL-CIO and Colombian labor organizations, it could further inflame opposition to the TPP pact.  "The U.S.-Colombia trade deal and the labor action plan that preceded it made big promises," Celeste Drake, a trade specialist at the AFL-CIO, said. "They promised that a 30-year campaign of terror against workers and worker organizations would end, and they promised that ordinary working people would be able to organize free and independent unions without fear for their lives. "These promises have not come to pass." Read Doug Palmer's story here.COLOMBIA DEFENDS ITS ACTIONS: Colombian Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón defended his country's actions, saying Bogotá has complied with all aspects of the labor action plan and has passed detailed implementing legislation. "We are deeply committed to protecting labor rights and human rights, and our efforts go beyond those of many nations in the international community, as we aim to lead in this area," Pinzón said in statement. "We will continue to make progress as we work to ensure the rights of workers every day."  But Levin said he supports the AFL-CIO's call for an investigation. "What's clear is there needs to be comprehensive review of worker rights in Colombia, with specific reference to the action plan," he told POLITICO Pro. "They're not implementing their obligations and they don't have an adequate structure to ensure that the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are upheld."  However, Levin stopped short of saying Colombia's labor record showed the TPP wouldn't change practices on the ground in Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. "I think the important point here is there is a labor action plan and the key is full implementation," he said. "What needs to be done with Colombia is to focus on what's missing - and a lot's missing - and what's going to be done to remedy it." USW Supports Petition Challenging Colombia’s Failure to Live Up To Labor Obligations under the FTA(Pittsburgh) – 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.”