Labour reform bill takes step forward with approval of key articles on worker rights

Colombia’s labour reform bill, one of the landmark policies introduced by the Petro government, has taken a step forward after Congress approved an initial group of articles. It was the first debate since the labour reform was newly submitted in Congress, after the previous legislative period saw the bill shelved when it failed to attain the required number of votes to proceed. In the latest session, 16 of the 98 articles passed the first hurdle, a development welcomed by the bill’s supporters, among them trade unions and progressive politicians.

The rights of workers who perform night shifts and weekend work is addressed in Article 15, one of the articles approved. While night work was previously recognised as being carried out after 9pm, the reform now designates night work as beginning at 6pm. It also provides workers with the right to claim overtime and increased pay for working on weekends and public holidays. Workers could eventually receive double pay for working these days, with an incremental rise from the current 75 per cent overtime rate to 100 per cent by 2025.

Elsewhere, the approved articles include the elimination of ‘violence, harassment and discrimination in the world of work’, as well as social provisions for gig-economy workers in digital platforms such as Uber and Rappi, obliging employers to contribute to health coverage and pensions. Companies must also clearly detail the status of workers and ensure they can access basic rights such as minimum wage. Other key elements of the labour reform include the rights of workers in increasingly automatised workplaces and those of domestic workers.

Opponents of the labour reform, including the Democratic Centre party of former presidents Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque, claim that more demanding conditions on workers are needed to boost economic growth and that the costs of implementing the proposed laws are prohibitively high.

While trade unions have given strong backing to the labour reform, drafted under Labour Minister Gloria Ramírez, a longstanding trade unionist who was formerly president of the FECODE teacher federation, there remains much work to be done to properly overcome Colombia’s appalling record on labour rights. The International Trade Union Confederation has consistently identified it as one of the world’s worst countries in which to be a worker.

Other important areas of debate that lie ahead include regulating the vast informal sector, addressing gender-based discrimination in pay and career development, access to pensions and ensuring workers can meet new challenges presented in today’s work climate.