ITUC finds Colombia still among world’s worst countries for labour rights

The International Trade Union Confederation has published its annual Global Rights Index finding that labour rights deteriorated across much of the world during the last year. As democratisation of workspace has rescinded and corporate greed increased, abuses of power such as arbitrary detentions of workers have occurred in 59 countries, compared with 44 during 2017.

According to ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow, ‘democracy is under attack in countries that fail to guarantee people’s right to organise, speak out and take action. Brazil passed laws that denied freedom of association, China restricted free speech and the military was used to suppress labour disputes in Indonesia’. In April 2018, Sharan Burrow was a delegate on the inaugural Justice for Colombia Peace Monitor, which visited Colombia to observe the implementation of the peace process and meet with the Colombian government, the FARC, the UN and civil society groups, including the country’s main trade union federations.

There has been a weakening of workers’ ability to access legal mechanisms which protect their rights, the Global Index Report report found. This was exacerbated by major corporations’ disregard for workers and their anti-union practices, which contributed to increased inequality and corporate power.

Abuses are widespread. 65 per cent of countries prevent certain work groups from accessing legal mechanisms to protect their labour rights while 87 per cent of countries violated workers’ right to strike. 54 out of 142 countries restrict freedom of assembly and free speech. There was a ten per cent increase, from 59 to 65 per cent, in the number of countries where workers have been subjected to intimidation, harassment or physical violence.

Colombia was one of nine countries in which trade unionists were murdered. According to a report by Colombia’s National Trade Union School, Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, with 19 murders in 2017, up from 11 the previous year, and 143 overall during 2012-2017. Three unionised Nestle employees, all of whom belonged to the SINALTRAINAL trade union for food industry workers, were murdered in May 2018.  Colombia is also among the bottom ten countries for workers’ overall rights.

In the Global Index ratings of one (sporadic violations of rights) to five (no guarantee of rights), Colombia scored a five. The only countries with a worse rating are those where the breakdown of law has seen labour rights disappear, such as Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

Download the full 2018 Global Rights Index