What labor and union agenda should the new Colombian government and Congress pursue? Here are some suggestions


In Colombia, we have recently seen alternative forces make significant advances in the configuration of the new Congress of the Republic and, according to the latest polls, the left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro could become the new president of Colombia.

Faced with this favorable political perspective, it is essential that we present the proposals made by the National Trade Union School (ENS) and the trade union movement for consideration by the new congress and a possible new government from an anti-neoliberal perspective in the framework of their political reflection. and legislative programs on labor and trade unions. If we succeed in transforming these proposals into public policy objectives of the new government and of the recently elected Congress of the Republic, we can gradually realize the principles of ever more decent work in our country.

Make decent work a public policy objective

The starting point for making decent work a reality in Colombia would be to ensure compliance with the law and the decisions of the Constitutional Court that prohibit all forms of labor intermediation through associated work cooperatives, foundations and other unauthorized organizations, and to combat unfair labor intermediation practices of temporary service companies. The State, for its part, must set an example of respect for labor standards by avoiding sub-contracting and by favoring the direct employment of personnel carrying out missions in the public sector.

The commercialization of social security is an issue of great concern in Colombia. We must design a new system that is not driven by the market, that is public, universal, supportive and preventive.

What are the constituent elements of this new model of social security and protection? First, we must remove the false social protection floor introduced by the government of President Iván Duque, which has made working conditions even more precarious. We must also put in place a public, universal and supportive health system with a preventive rather than a reactive approach. Another cornerstone is the pension system, which should be mostly public and based on the average premium approach (intergenerational solidarity), to guarantee real retirement pensions. In terms of health and safety at work, the system should regain its true purpose of promoting health and preventing illness and death at work. We also recommend studying the possibility of introducing a “basic income”, at least in an emergency, to urgently deal with the terrible hunger crisis that affects more than 21 million people in Colombia.

With regard to the right to freedom of association – one of the dimensions of decent work – Colombia must honor the international commitments made by its governments (Obama-Santos Action Plan for Labor, Roadmap with European Union, OECD commitments) and implement the recommendations of international organizations such as the ILO, Supreme Court judgments and constitutional mandates. More specifically, multilevel and sectoral collective bargaining must be developed, as recommended by the OECD, and so-called collective pacts prohibited in companies where unions are present, as recommended by the ILO.

In addition, Article 56 of the Constitution must be regulated to define what is meant by “essential public services” and to prevent the few strikes that take place in the country from being declared illegal for unreasonable reasons.

The resources that the State devotes to monitoring employers’ obligations in the area of ​​labor justice fall far short of the standards set by the international organizations to which Colombia belongs. The number of labor inspectors is 55 per cent lower than indicated by the International Labor Organization and the ratio of labor judges to population is 83 per cent lower than the average for OECD countries, for example. Between 1993 and 2019, the number of labor cases increased by 177 percent, but the number of labor judges remained unchanged. To ensure greater effectiveness of the inspection and control responsibilities of the Ministry of Labour, the number of inspectors should be increased in line with international standards, and a preventive approach and a rights protection approach should be adopted. More labor judges must be appointed and effective and timely mechanisms for access to labor justice must be put in place to ensure the defense and restitution of labor rights and freedoms that are violated.

A promise broken for more than 30 years by the Congress of the Republic is to bring labor legislation into line with a series of principles set out in article 53 of the political constitution. One of the priorities that the new Congress should set itself is to fulfill this constitutional mandate, which also stipulates that duly ratified international labor conventions must form part of national legislation.

Gender discrimination, anti-union violence and the future of work

Given the lack of progress in addressing gender-based discrimination in the country’s labor practices, an employment policy with a differentiated approach is needed to promote and protect women’s employment. The coronavirus pandemic has had a very negative impact on women’s employment. Although women have made progress in terms of levels of participation in education and work, when faced with social emergencies, they return home to care for the family, as macroeconomic data indicate. on employment. In this context, urgent steps must be taken to develop a national policy on the care economy, so that care work is democratized and women do not continue to be the only solution to care needs.

It is also important to include, within the framework of a differentiated approach, the inspection and control of employment by the Ministry of Labor in the activities related to care, since these are the activities that employ the majority of women. The vast majority of domestic work positions, for example, are held by women (94 per cent), and it is a job that presents many challenges in terms of decent work protection.

Likewise, when promoting the creation of new formal jobs in the country, a differentiated approach should be included in the supply generated, since not only is the level of self-employment among women higher, but the implications are much greater. more complex due to the structural conditions in which women find themselves in Colombia.

Another outstanding issue is the anti-union violence that still plagues our country, targeting union activists and leaders.

Coordinated action is needed to change this reality and should aim to eradicate the anti-union culture that legitimizes violence; promote recognition that ending anti-union violence is essential to ensure the non-recurrence of conflict; end the high levels of impunity that limit victims’ access to truth and justice; the promotion of collective and comprehensive redress for the trade union movement and the reflection on the necessity, legitimacy and importance of the free exercise of trade union activity as a fundamental precondition for the strengthening of democracy and the construction of peace .

Finally, measures are needed to solve the problem of work on digital platforms, which takes place in a context of high levels of illegality, precariousness and labor flexibility. These digital and virtual forms of work present major challenges in terms of legal frameworks, as they are not regulated by labor law but by commercial law. Digital work is an unavoidable trend, but labor regulations must be the only regulations applicable to these new forms of work organization. Moreover, not only labor relations should be governed by labor law; they should also include social protection for all workers.

A new development model that creates decent work

A key task for the new government is to rethink the development model that has governed us for more than 30 years, with appalling results. Stable and well-paid employment is only possible if the State implements policies that promote the full development of the country’s productive forces, with emphasis on scientific and technological progress, economic diversification and social infrastructure. , economic and transportation.

The new development model must guarantee freedom of enterprise but with a leading role for the State in guaranteeing social security; in the regulation of finance, trade and markets; and in reviving the productive economy.

The state must guarantee access to sufficient credit for productive investments in agriculture, industry, responsible mining, energy, communications and transport, rather than continuing to base our economy on mining and energy extraction activities, the export of primary products and speculative financial logics that contribute very little to employment and explain the high levels of informal employment in street vendors and the subsistence economy.

This article has been translated from Spanish.

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