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Cablegate: Labor Confederations Criticize Goc's Labor Reform

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DE RUEHBO #0812/01 0642001
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P 042001Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1654
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8072
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0045
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 9273
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5970
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1341
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6615
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4315
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000812

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: LABOR CONFEDERATIONS CRITICIZE GOC'S LABOR REFORM
PACKAGE

REF: A. BOGOTA 4860
B. BOGOTA 8662

--------
SUMMARY
--------

1. (U) Colombia's three main labor confederations criticized
the GOC's labor reform package which is pending in Congress.
The unions applauded the proposed transfer of authority for
declaring whether a strike is legal from the executive to the
judiciary, but said the two bills (Legality of Strikes Bill
and the Cooperatives Bill) not not go far enough to address
labor rights. The AFL-CIO-affiliated Solidarity Center also
thinks the package could do more to advance workers'
interests. In informal discussions, the International Labor
Organization (ILO) representative in Colombia called the
legislation a "step forward". The bills should pass before
the Congressional term ends on June 20. End summary.

--------------------------------
LEGISLATION UNDER CONSIDERATION
--------------------------------

2. (U) As noted in reftel, the GOC's labor reform
package--which consists of the Legality of Strikes and the
Cooperatives bills--would transfer authority for declaring
whether a strike is legal from the executive to the
judiciary; make binding arbitration, if requested by one of
the parties, mandatory after a strike has lasted 68 days
instead of the current 60 days; require workers' cooperatives
to pay into the social security benefits programs; and
increase fines for cooperatives that do not comply with
current laws.

3. (SBU) Social Protection Minister Diego Palacio confirmed
the current bill has language providing for obligatory
arbitration at the request of one party after a strike has
lasted 68 days. Still, he said MSP has a deal with pro-GOC
legislators to amend the language to provide for mandatory
arbitration only at the request of both parties. Business
leaders fear eliminating the mandatory arbitration provision
could lead to business closures, since Colombian law
prohibits workers from returning to work if a strike is
ongoing -- even if they want to do so.

-----------------------------
LABOR CONFEDERATION CONCERNS
-----------------------------

4. (U) Colombia's three main labor confederations voiced
disappointment with the proposed legislation. They agreed
the transfer of authority to rule on the legality of strikes
from the executive to the judiciary was positive, but they
want the Constitutional Court to make the determination
rather than local judges, as stipulated in the current bill.
They claim local judges are more susceptible to "outside
influence" and would not be objective. If unsuccessful in
obtaining the Constitutional Court as the appropriate forum,
they want a clear appeals process set up.

5. (U) The labor confederations say the payment of social
security and benefits programs by cooperatives was never
their issue. They charge that the Cooperatives Bill does not
address employer abuse of cooperatives to circumvent worker
rights and limit unionization, arguing that tighter
enforcement of existing legislation requiring cooperatives to
be worker owned and managed would be a more effective
solution. The confederations claim the GOC's proposed bill
would legitimize "false" cooperatives and cut workers' net
salaries.

6. (U) The confederations assert that the reform package
also does not address their longstanding complaint that the
GOC interprets a legislative ban on strikes by "essential
public services" in an overly expansive way. They claim the
lack of legislative clarity leads courts to "paint with too
wide of a brush" when determining what public sectors cannot
strike. For example, Apecides Fernandez, President of the
CTC (Confederacion de Trabajadores de Colombia) stated the
administrative offices in the public health sector should be
allowed to strike, even if doctors and nurses are required to
report to duty.


------------------------
GOC UNION CONSULTATIONS
------------------------

7. (SBU) The Ministry of Social Protection (MSP) invited the
three confederations to discuss the legislation before
presenting the bills to congress. The ILO representative
confirmed that two of the three confederations, the CTC and
the CUT, refused the invitation and have subsequently charged
that there was no GOC dialogue with labor before the bills
were sent to Congress.

---------------------
OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVES
---------------------

8. (U) Rhett Doumitt of the AFL-CIO affiliated Solidarity
Center agreed with the labor confederations' criticisms. In
addition, he said the bill should allow workers to form
sector-wide unions, and that they should be allowed to
negotiate directly with employers. Currently, under
Colombian law these types of negotiations are not allowed.
He said that collective bargaining is the only situation in
which workers are legally permitted to strike. He thinks
workers should be allowed to strike in other situations, such
as in the case of massive layoffs.

9. (SBU) In informal comments, Marcelo Castro Fox, the local
ILO representative, said the labor reform package was a "step
forward" for the GOC and labor rights in Colombia. He added
that there are no ILO conventions that are at odds with the
mandatory arbitration provision in the proposed labor
legislation, but said the unions' complaints regarding the
appeal issue and the need for a definition of essential
public services are valid. Castro said President Uribe and
other GOC officials are "exceptionally accessible" to the
confederations, and praised the GOC's protection programs for
labor unionists and other at-risk individuals.

-------------------
STATUS IN CONGRESS
-------------------

10. The Cooperatives Bill (144) has passed in the commission
debates in both houses, and is pending a floor hearing in the
House and Senate (both houses). The commission debates on
the Legality of Strikes Bill(190) have not taken place yet.
Both of these bills will likely pass between late March and
June 20, when the Congressional term ends.
Brownfield

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