The Department of Labor has issued its first periodic review of progress in addressing issues identified in its January 2017 report on Colombia’s compliance with its obligations under the labor chapter of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
The DOL states that it will continue to monitor and evaluate progress over the next year, an indication that escalation to dispute settlement measures is unlikely in the near term, according to the Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report.
A July 2016 submission to the DOL alleged that Colombia has violated its obligations under the agreement by failing to effectively enforce its labor laws related to the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining; failing to adopt and maintain in its statutes, regulations, and practices the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and failing to comply with the procedural guarantees enumerated in the TPA labor chapter.
The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which entered into force in 2012, provides elimination of tariffs and removes barriers to U.S. services, including financial services. It incudes a Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights to address long-standing issues of mutual concerns including violence against Colombian labor union members and inadequate efforts to bring the perpetrators of such violence to justice, and insufficient protection of workers’ rights.
The DOL’s January 2017 report recognized “meaningful progress” by the Colombian government on these issues but also identified concerns regarding the collection of fines, subcontracting schemes and collective pacts, and the adequacy of investigations and prosecutions in cases of anti-union threats and violence, as well as criminal cases of infringement on workers’ fundamental rights.
Since then, the two sides have held three rounds of consultations to discuss these problems, the 19 recommendations in the DOL report for addressing those problems and Colombia’s progress toward implementing those recommendations.
[Read more about Colombia: Colombia Makes Strides as Cost Effective, Efficient Sourcing Locale]
DOL said among the progress that had been made is that Colombia’s Ministry of Labor installed an electronic case management system in all regional offices and two special administrative offices and required labor inspectors and their managers to use and update this system, and published a bulletin with various inspection statistics comparing data from the third quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2016, including the number of investigations initiated and number of fines imposed, as well as the total amount of fines collected over all four quarters of 2016 and the first three quarters of 2017.
In addition, the ministry aims to convert the rest of the 804 of its 904 existing inspector positions to career civil service positions by the end of 2018, and has committed to improve the training that all labor inspectors receive, launched an internal group that will manage and ensure the relevance of trainings, and is working with a DOL-funded project being implemented by the International Labor Organization to design updated training curricula.
DOL also noted that ministry is testing the concept of stationing labor inspectors in remote communities for short periods of time to give workers and employers a chance for direct engagement with a labor authority.
Colombia’s Office of the Prosecutor General reports an “unprecedented” number of total criminal cases resolved in the past year, including 92 conciliations in criminal cases of infringement of workers’ rights and 32 guilty verdicts in 22 cases of unionist homicides that occurred between 2011 and 2017.
Among ongoing concerns cited by the DOL report, is that the Ministry of Labor still appears to lack a national inspection strategy and has yet to ensure that preventive inspections are not used as a substitute for administrative sanctions, and timelines for persuasive and coercive fine collection are not clear and are spread across various regulations and laws.
The ministry still needs to improve investigations and sanctions on all forms of abusive subcontracting and the misuse of collective pacts in accordance with established timeframes, DOL said, and that the length of time it takes to undertake prosecutions is of concern and the government has yet to adopt a system for prioritizing cases of threats against unionists.
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