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Labor Enforcement Sought Against Colombia as USTR Sees Progress, Challenges

Thursday, May 19, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The AFL-CIO and five Colombian labor organizations have filed a petition with the Department of Labor alleging that Colombia has failed to comply with labor obligations in its free trade agreement with the U.S. The petition comes a month after the U.S. issued a report praising Colombia for its progress on labor rights but noting that more still needs to be done.

The petition asserts that the government of Colombia has been out of compliance with its labor obligations under Chapter 17 of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement “since the first day the TPA went into effect.” Specifically, the petition alleges that Colombia has (1) failed to effectively enforce its labor laws through a sustained and recurring course of inaction and action in a manner that affects trade and investment, (2) waived or otherwise derogated from its laws and regulations in a manner affecting trade or investment, (3) failed to adopt and maintain in its laws and regulations, and practices thereunder, the rights stated in the International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, (4) failed to ensure that proceedings in its administrative, judicial or labor tribunals are transparent and do not entail unwarranted delays, and (5) failed to ensure that final decisions from its tribunals are made available without undue delay.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recently issued a report marking the five-year anniversary of the Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights, which was negotiated in conjunction with the TPA and designed to address labor issues that previously had seemed intractable, such as violence and discrimination against trade union members, impunity for acts of labor-related violence, delays and backlogs in the program to protect threatened unionists, widespread fake worker cooperatives used to undermine workers’ rights, and illegal use of collective pacts negotiated with individual workers to weaken unions and avoid collective bargaining. The report asserted that Colombia has made “meaningful progress” in a number of areas.

However, USTR’s report also noted the challenges that remain.

The labor group petition highlights many of the same problems and therefore calls on the U.S. government to immediately conduct a thorough, wide-ranging investigation into Chapter 17 violations, initiate labor consultations under the TPA with Colombia, and invoke the agreement’s dispute settlement process if consultations fail to bring about full compliance within a year.

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