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Key Members of Congress to Monitor Colombia Labor Rights
Sending a strong signal to the Colombian government as well as to the Obama Administration, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and seven key members of Congress have formed a Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia “to ensure that progress is made on labor rights in the coming months.”
In a November 16, 2011 letter to Colombian President Juan Santos, released on November 18, members of the Monitoring Group announced the group’s formation, noting the steps taken to date by the Colombian government but serving notice that more would need to be done, including reducing violence, making progress on prosecutions of anti-union violence, and ensuring that Colombian law protects workers ability to exercise core worker rights.
Joining Ms. Pelosi in signing the letter were Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the Way and Means Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep James McGovern (D-MA), a long-time advocate for human rights in Latin America, Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), head of the House Trade Working Group, and two members who voted for the agreement, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).
The establishment of a formal Congressional Monitoring Group led by the House Democratic Leader puts pressure on the Obama Administration to at least ensure compliance with the Labor Action Plan before the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is implemented. The Labor Action Plan was signed by the two governments in April 2011, and touted by the Administration as evidence of progress by the Colombian government on worker rights. In the lead up to the vote, the U.S. Trade Representative consistently gave the Colombian government a thumbs up on compliance with the Plan. Both the AFL-CIO and the Escuela Nacional Sindical released reports in October showing that the Colombian government had failed to implement important elements of the Plan. Worker rights advocates like USLEAP already considered the Plan inadequate as a precondition to a vote.
Resolving “technical” issues with the FTA, passed in October 2011, is expected to take many months, providing time for the Colombian government to demonstrate whether its signing of the Labor Action Plan and stated commitments to improve respect for worker rights were more than pre-vote ploys.
Developments in Colombia since the FTA vote have cast further doubts about the Colombian government’s intentions. The Vice President, a former union leader, is reportedly being eased out of his post, fueling speculation that he was brought in primarily as a sales-person for the Colombian government in the months leading up to a vote. While one of the two struggles highlighted as test cases by the AFL-CIO in a November 3, 2011 letter has been resolved, at Puerto Wilches, it took significant intervention from U.S. congressional offices and worker rights NGOs, including USLEAP, who were prompted by threats of imminent violence in early November. Meanwhile, the independent oil workers union at Campo Rubiales is in the midst of being busted as the government aids and abets the company’s efforts to force workers to join the company-based union or be dismissed.
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