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Cablegate: Usg Assists Colombian Labor Protection Efforts

VZCZCXYZ0014
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0442/01 0351942
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 041942Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1206
INFO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJC/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 9898
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 1183
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6533
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 4285
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1533

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000442

SIPDIS

FOR LABOR FOR DOL/IL
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EAID KJUS ECIN ECON ILO CO
SUBJECT: USG ASSISTS COLOMBIAN LABOR PROTECTION EFFORTS

1. Summary: The USG, through USAID and the U.S. Department of
Labor (DOL), supports GOC efforts to improve labor rights and
enforcement. Programs include assistance for a new risk-based labor
inspection system, extending the oral justice system to labor cases,
outreach on labor rights, strengthening efforts to protect human
rights of labor leaders and activists, and efforts to eradicate
child labor. These activities support the GOC's larger programs to
improve labor rights and enforcement. End Summary.

2. The GOC has launched major initiatives over the last two years
to improve labor rights and enforcement, combat violence against
unionists and to end impunity. These initiatives include
protection, prosecution, and legal reforms, which continue to have a
significant positive impact. In 2007, the GOC protected 1,720
at-risk union members, along with journalists, human rights
advocates and other groups, at a cost of USD 34 million. In January
2007, the GOC invested USD 1.5 million to launch the Colombian
Prosecutor General's Human Rights Unit, with 13 prosecutors and 78
investigators, to prosecute violent crimes against unionists. At
the International Labor Organization's (ILO) recommendation and
after consultation with Colombian labor and industry, the GOC
established an ILO office in Bogota in 2007, and has dedicated USD 4
million for ILO projects in 2008. In response to concerns
identified by the ILO, the GOC introduced bills in congress to bring
Colombia's laws closer to ILO standards, including: transferring
authority for declaring the legality of a strike from the executive
to independent labor judges; mediation as a step in resolving labor
disputes and providing the option of binding arbitration at the
request of one of the parties; requiring workers' cooperatives to
pay into the social security system and benefits programs; and
increasing fines for cooperatives that do not comply with current
laws.

3. The USG works with the GOC to implement these programs. USAID
assists the Ministry of Social Protection in the design and
implementation of a new preventive labor inspection system, in which
the private sector and workers take an active role. This
comprehensive risk-management model aims to prevent violations and
enforce sound labor practices. Pilot programs in five cities
emphasize preventive inspections, increasing field visits,
simplifying procedures for workers, improving risk management, and
developing new conflict-management tools. The GOC incorporated this
system into the national development plan (Law 1151/07) and
regulated it through Resolution No. 1282. Employers and workers have
signed voluntary compliance agreements in sectors such as
transportation, construction and security to comply with health and
safety regulations and maximum working hours, social security and
contractual laws. In 2008, the GOC will expand the program to
Bogota and other cities, hiring 150 new labor inspectors. USAID
will continue to support this effort with training and technical
assistance.

4. USAID also supports GOC efforts to extend the oral accusatory
justice system to labor rights cases, which will greatly improve the
transparency and timeliness of resolutions of legal disputes related
to worker rights. In 2008, USAID will support the GOC's
implementation of this reform for labor cases, through three key
activities: 1) the development of a long-term financing plan for
upgrading court facilities and equipment to transition to the oral
justice system; 2) possible training for officials on the
requirements of the new system; and 3) developing procedures for
implementing the new system. The GOC and USAID plan to launch a
pilot program in Bogota this year to train judges, government
officials, lawyers and students. Other USAID support to the GOC
includes a public outreach strategy to educate employers, workers
and policymakers on worker rights and fundamental ILO standards.

5. USAID will support an independent analysis of labor-related
violence in Colombia with a view towards strengthening efforts to
reduce impunity regarding violations of the human rights of trade
unionists, and promoting and protecting the human rights and labor
rights of trade unionists. The assessment will identify the
magnitude, nature, and evolution of violence against trade
unionists; analyze the multiple sources of information and
statistics on this issue; and provide recommendations to improve the
situation. USAID is working the scope and exploring the
implementation mechanisms with ILO, UNHCHR, and the UNDP.

6. USAID will design a new labor activity and implement it under
the ongoing Human Rights Program. The program will strengthen GOC
and civil society efforts to protect the human rights of labor
leaders and activists as guaranteed by the Colombian Constitution.
Illustrative activities include: improving the investigation and
prosecution of violations of the human rights of trade union leaders
and activists; strengthening and expanding legal access for labor
leaders and activists; providing preventive and protection measures
for at-risk individuals in the labor sector; and increasing public
awareness about the rights of labor union members. USAID closely
coordinates all labor activities with ILO and is exploring ways to
work with them to implement this.

7. USAID supports the American Center for International Labor
Solidarity's (ACILS) Southern Cone program to strengthen fundamental
rights, comply and enhance international standards regarding worker
laws, expand democratic participation and strengthen labor
unionist
s. With USAID funding, ACILS works with the local ILO
office and the National Labor School to develop regulations needed
to implement Colombian legislation (Law 411 of 1997 and Law 524 of
1999) that guarantees public sector employees the right to unionize
and bargain collectively. In addition, with USAID funding, ACILS
will train 100 local labor activists to identify and document
violations of fundamental labor rights pertaining to freedom of
association and the right to collective bargaining. Once
documented, ACILS will assess these labor violations and make
recommendations for improving the protection of fundamental labor
rights.

8. The GOC also participates in DOL-funded projects to keep
children from entering the workforce and get others out of the
workplace and into school. The first project, called "Combating
Exploitive Child Labor through Education in Colombia", supports GOC
policies, such as the National Strategy for the Elimination of Child
Labor, and programs for child soldiers, street children, youth
involved in commercial sexual exploitation, and those working in
other hazardous sectors. The project targets children ages 6-17 for
withdrawal or prevention from exploitative child labor from
2007-2010, and provides those children with educational programs.

9. A second project targets children for withdrawal and for
prevention from hazardous agriculture and other forms of labor in
the municipalities of Funza and Madrid. A USD 5.5 million regional
program for Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Colombia just concluded,
which sought to withdraw children from domestic labor and commercial
sexual exploitation and prevent children from becoming involved in
those activities.

BROWNFIELD

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