By Jorge Mario Erazo
(Translated from Spanish by ILRF)
“The enemies of trade unionism are many: primarily the paramilitaries, but also the FARC and ELN, are killing union leaders, as well as some business leaders -very few- who don't want unions. As the State, which regulates social relations and protects human rights, we are not going to allow this to continue."
That was the speech that the Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón, made yesterday in Barranquilla during the meeting of the Security Council.
Although this declaration was not recorded in the meeting's minutes, as the CUT's director for Human Rights Domingo Tovar said, the Vice President for Judicial and Social Matters of the Andi, Alberto Echavarría Saldarriaga, said that this comment by the Vice President needed to be more precise.
"The Andi thinks that freedom of association and collective organizing are fundamental rights that are highly respected by all of its affiliates. If there is any doubt, we want the government to be more precise and direct about this issue," he said.
Once the Security Council finished -the second that has been held in the country, after the one in Valledupar-, Santos told the media that the impression that he has of the situation in the Department in terms of protecting labor rights is that "it is going through a difficult time, there are many threats, however, I believe that we are ironing things out, there have been some agreements made, we will make progress, the important thing is to make progress in the agreements and to show result, but there is a lot of distrust of the State."
Beginning August 30, there will be a Security Council meeting each month, presided over by Atlantic Governor Alejandro Char and by the district mayor Humberto Caiafa, in which they will continue to follow the situation of threats received by union leaders. Meeting participants included the Viceminister of Labor Relations from the Ministry of Social Protection, Luz Stella Arango; the Governor of the Atlantic, Alejandro Char Chaljub; District mayor Humberto Caiafa; the Subdirector of the DAS, Emiro Rojas; the president of the CGTD, Apécides Alvis, and the Secretary of the CGTD, Julio Roberto Gómez, as well as some other authorities.
At the end of the Security Council meeting, the Vice President announced the design and beginning of an action plan for the Regional Offices of the Ministry of Social Protection, in order to evaluate the complaints regarding violations of workers' fundamental rights. The results should be presented in October.
"It will be seen how well the regional offices function in solving the workers' complaints. At the end of the year the region will have a plan outlined," said Santos.
The Subcomission for Labor and Wage Policy, which by law should have been created some time ago, will finally be formed. "The government, workers and employers will look at all the problems in the region."
There will also be a Commission for Prevention headed by Coronels Novoa (Director of Human Rights for the Police) and Castillo (Director of Human Rights for the Army) which will present its results in one month.
"Delegates from the mayor and governor's offices will participate in the Ministry of the Interior's protection program. This plan should be ready in one month, it should be evaluated at the next Security Council meeting,"said Santos.
On the issue of impunity, a commission for "following up on assassinations" was created, with the participation of the Regional Attorney, Ombudsman, and Fiscalia Seccional. The first report should be ready by September 30. "Monitoring will continue on this every 3 months," said Santos. Intelligence reports received by state agencies which specifically concern unionists will also be among the points studied by the highest governmental authorities.
Regarding the security programs, a protection system will be institutionalized and it will include the contracting of bodyguards through an objective and transparent process. The bodyguards will be assigned to unionists in danger. They will solicit resumes from candidates who think they have the qualities to be incorporated into the DAS.
"The CGTD and the CTC are going to make a decision about the mixed programs and the programs based on trust. The government has a proposal, but we still need to discuss within the unions so that the government can have a policy; we need to see what flexibility their decision allows. The government and the unions want to reach an agreement," said the Vice President.
Fecode and other teacher's unions will help produce a risk assessment about the region's educators, in order to study the problems faced by teachers. "The issue of the teachers has us worried, they are being displaced, threatened. What happens here is different from what happens in Nariño, and we want to look at the national panorama, to develop a policy for protection," said Santos.
The regional branch of the Andi in the Atlantic is going to sponsor a series of meetings with the regional offices of the 3 main unions, the CGTD, CTC, and the CUT, to evaluate employer-employee relations.