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Cablegate: Goc Advances On Labor Concerns

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DE RUEHBO #2175/01 1691636
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171636Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEAWJC/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3194
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8246
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0552
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ JUN 9500
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6270
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1864
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6938
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4462

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002175

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PLEASE PASS TO USTR, BENNETT HARMON AND AARON ROSENBERG

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: GOC ADVANCES ON LABOR CONCERNS

REF: A. BOGOTA 528
B. BOGOTA 1017
C. BOGOTA 1197
D. BOGOTA 1432
E. BOGOTA 1460
F. BOGOTA 4860


SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) The GOC continues to make progress on labor concerns.
The GOC announced plans to make special labor judge jobs
permanent positions, and the Colombian National Police's
(CNP) new "rewards program" for information on violence
against unionists led to the capture of five perpetrators.
The Fiscalia's labor sub-unit has resolved 50 cases,
resulting in 79 convictions. The GOC introduced a bill to
boost the statute of limitations and sentences for crimes
against unionists, and the Senate modified the Legality of
Strikes bill to require both parties' consent to binding
arbitration. With USAID support, the GOC is improving its
labor inspection program. Colombia was not included on the
list for discussion by the Committee on the Application of
Standards at the annual International Labor Organization
(ILO) conference, but the GOC voluntarily met with the
committee to discuss Colombia. The ILO will expand its staff
working on Colombia. END SUMMARY.

JUDICIAL CHANGES
-----------------

2. (SBU) Vice Minister of Labor Andres Palacio told us the
GOC plans to change the terms of special labor judges from
six-month appointments to permanent positions to ensure
continuity. The Ministry of Social Protection (MSP) has
informed the three main union confederations of this change,
but will not make an official announcement until July when
the paperwork is complete. The change partly stems from
criticism by labor groups when the independent Appellate
Court decided not to reappoint one of the previous three
labor judges, Jose Nirio Sanchez, in January 2008 (see reftel
A).


REWARDS AND PROSECUTIONS
-------------------------

3. (U) The Colombian National Police (CNP) announced on
April 20 a new "rewards program" for individuals who provide
information on violent crimes against unionists. CNP
International Affairs Director Hector Buitrago told us the
program offers up to 100 million pesos (about 55,000 USD) for
information on murders or attempted murders of unionists.
The ENS reports 25 murders of unionists so far in 2008. The
program has given rewards in two cases, leading to the arrest
of two individuals in the 2008 homicides. Three other
perpetrators have already been arrested in the 2008 homicides.

4. (U) The Fiscalia's labor sub-unit has resolved 50 cases
resulting in the conviction of 79 perpetrators. Since 2001,
the Fiscalia has resolved 87 of the 1280 ILO cases, leading
to the conviction of 178 perpetrators. The rate of case
resolution has increased significantly since the labor
sub-unit's creation in November, 2006.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES
--------------------

5. (U) On May 19, the GOC introduced a bill to boost
sentences related to the murder of unionists from 33.3 years
to 60 years. The bill would apply the increased sentences to
murders of union members in addition to murders of union
leaders. The legislation would also increase the statute of
limitations on labor violence cases from ten to thirty years.

6. (SBU) The Senate modified the Legality of Strikes Bill;
it now requires both parties to consent to binding
arbitration. The House version of the bill does not include
this change, but Labor Vice Minister Palacio tells us he
expects this change to be made during "conciliation" on June
17. The three main labor confederations support this change
because it would align the legislation with ILO conventions.

7. (SBU) Ivan Toro, a leader in the Colombian Association of
Bank Employees (ACEB) and Executive Secretary of the
Colombian Workers Confederation (CTC), recognized the new
legislation could be dangerous for both workers and
businesses, as strikes could go on indefinitely. He noted
that in Colombia there is no "right to work". The longer a
strike lasts, the more time workers are left without an
income. Vice Minister Palacio also voiced concern about this
issue, saying that of 37 strikes in 2007 that went to binding
arbitration, only one case was requested by the employer and
not the union (see reftel F).

EXPANDED LABOR INSPECTIONS PROGRAM
----------------------------------

8. (U) In May, the GOC held events to highlight its expanded
labor inspection program in Cundinamarca department, the
largest labor market in the country. USAID gave USD 800,000
to the GOC to fund training and technical assistance to make
the labor inspection program more effective. The GOC is
committed to boosting the number of labor inspectors from 180
to 387 by 2009. The pilot program started in 2007. By the
end of 2008, the GOC hopes to have trained and hired 70 new
inspectors, and to have extended the new inspections model to
cover over 60% of the total Colombian formal workforce and
over 85% of all registered firms.

9. (U) Former United Workers' Central (CUT) President Carlos
Rodriguez admitted he was skeptical about the expanded labor
inspections program. Still, after talking to CUT members in
Cartagena, he admits the program has produced results.
Rodriguez said an increase in inspectors in the field was the
"right answer" as it addresses labors' principal concern:
employer abuse of workers through use of cooperatives and
short-term contracts. AFL-CIO-supported Solidarity Center
Director Rhett Doumitt says he has also heard the program is
obtaining union buy-in.

ILO VERDICT AND EXPANDED PRESENCE IN COLOMBIA
--------------------------------------------- -

10. (SBU) At the annual ILO Conference in Geneva May 28-June
13, Colombia was not on the list for discussion by the
Committee on the Application of Standards. Still, the GOC
voluntarily met with the committee to discuss Colombia's
labor situation. ILO representative in Colombia Marcelo
Castro Fox said that although not being on the list could be
perceived as a "positive" for the GOC, he noted that due to
the Conference Committee discussions on Colombia, criticisms
of Colombia will be included in a "special paragraph" in the
final conference report.

11. (U) Castro Fox told us the ILO added a full-time
International Norms manager in February. The International
Norms manager is based out of the regional office in Lima;
Castro Fox says he makes bi-weekly visits. The ILO plans to
add another full-time Colombia-dedicated employee to work on
Social Dialogue and Industrial Relations in the months to
come. Currently, the ILO office in Bogota has 12
employees--4 program managers and 8 administrative staff.
BROWNFIELD

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