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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Venezuela

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Venezuela, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca647.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 27,976,601
Capital: Caracas
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138

There was a progressive weakening of collective bargaining rights and the right to strike, which were arbitrarily denied based on political bias and other reasons. The criminalisation of strikes and demonstrations and the undermining of trade union autonomy through the interference of the National Electoral Council (CNE) in trade union elections are compounding these problems. Abusive practices by the Labour Inspectorate and the SIVENSA Group were denounced.

Trade union rights in law

Restriction of freedom of association in the LOT: The Constitution of 1999 and the 1990 employment law ("Organic Labour Act" or "Ley Orgánica del Trabajo", LOT), promote freedom of association for all workers, apart from members of the armed forces. However, certain legislative measures contradict the stated desire to respect freedom of association.

The Regulation on the Organic Labour Act (LOT), which was reformed on 25 April 2006, introduced a number of improvements in the legislation and incorporated some of the observations and recommendations issued by the ILO at various times, whilst introducing some restrictions on freedom of association. The improvements include the setting of the minimum wage based on social dialogue at national level at least once a year. The Regulation also expressly stipulates that unions are free to conduct their elections based on their internal rules of procedure. A further innovation in the Regulation is the election of "labour directors" through referendums held by trade unions; these people become members of the management board in companies or other bodies. This is a requirement in the public sector and in those private companies that enjoy special protection from the State.

Freedom of association is restricted by the stipulation in the Regulation that trade union referendums be held to establish the representativeness of trade union organisations in the event of negotiations or collective disputes. These referendums are regulated entirely by the Labour Ministry ("Mintra"), and so they may also be seen as an indirect means by which the State, as the main employer, can regulate the unions and interfere in their affairs.

The inclusion of Article 357 in the reform of the Penal Code is a further cause of concern. That reform penalises and undermines, through the application of penalties, the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and the right to strike and block a company's production, both of which are frequently used to support workers' demands.

Interference in union affairs allowed by the Constitution: Under the pretext of guaranteeing fresh union elections at the end of each mandate, Article 95 of the Constitution requires union constitutions to make their leaders' mandates nonrenewable and submitted to a universal, direct and secret ballot.

National Electoral Council (CNE): The role of the CNE is strengthened by Article 293 of the Constitution, which delegates the calling, organisation and supervision of trade union elections to that body, until such time as new laws are introduced.

Unions are ordered to submit their members' identity: The Resolution adopted by the Ministry of Labour, which gives trade union organisations 30 days "to provide information on their administration and register of members in a form that includes each worker's full identity, place of residence and signature", is still in force.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: In the conflicts linked to the political polarisation in the country, the attention of the unions, social movements and political parties was focused on the procedure for the reforming of the Constitution. This was put to a referendum in December, which resulted in the rejection of the proposed reforms.

It should be stressed that the legislation on "solvencia laboral" published by the Ministry for Employment and Social Security ("Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Trabajo y la Seguridad Social", Minpptrass) in Decree Nº 4.248. (Official Gazette entry Nº 38.371 of 2 June 2006) remained applicable during the year; the law states that employers must respect the human and trade union rights of their employees as a prerequisite for obtaining foreign currency and import and export licences and for making any contracts, conventions or agreements with the State. In addition, on 30 March the law on job security ("inamovilidad laboral"), which had been in place since April 2002, was extended till December 2007.

Violence: Labour conflicts related to recruitment practices in the construction and oil sectors and, to a lesser extent, in basic industries, have continued to cause major concern, since they have generated acts of violence in various regions, ranging from physical and verbal assaults to assassinations. Based on figures from the human rights NGO PROVEA ("Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos"), in the period between September 2006 and October 2007 at least 95 workers were affected by this violence, 69 of whom were union leaders. According to PROVEA, again, "the use of assassins to murder trade unionists is aggravating the climate of violence and insecurity and severely harming the exercise of trade union activities". Various trade union organisations have asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate the assassination cases and punish the perpetrators.

In addition, the right to strike has been progressively restricted, with workers' attempts to pursue their demands being blocked and penalised. That is what happened to ten leaders of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Sanitarios Maracay (toilet makers' union) in May 2007: they were intercepted and arrested by police officers in Aragua whilst on their way to Caracas to present a petition with the workers' demands to the Parliament. After a number of demonstrations and pressure by leaders of the UNT, the trade unionists were released, but the Ministerio Público (public prosecutor's office) proceeded to charge them with breaching Article 357 of the Penal Code and ordered them to appear before it every fortnight.

Collective bargaining procedures blocked: Igor Lira, an employee of Fetratel, reported that 243 collective agreements had not been signed in the public sector "thereby proving that the government does not trust the trade union leaders making the demands", which is the "main problem". Orlando Chirino, the leader of the national centre Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT), described the collective bargaining situation as "alarming", citing the framework agreement for the public administration, which has not been discussed for 27 months, and the one covering Labour Ministry employees, which has not been discussed for 16 years. The workers' representative in the People's Front ("Frente Amplio Popular", FAP) estimated that 3,500 collective agreements were not being discussed.

The teachers' union FVM ("Federación Venezolana de Maestros") and its 27 affiliated organisations lodged a formal complaint with the ILO to request that the State of Venezuela restore its collective bargaining rights, which had been blocked since March 2006.

State interference in trade union autonomy: The president called on trade unions to join the Socialist Party ("Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela", PSUV).

Harassment of union members: Members of the union at Orinoco Iron complained about harassment by officials from the Puerto Ordaz Labour Inspectorate and employers in the SIVENSA group, who refused to recognise freedom of association and trade union autonomy, by delaying recognition of elections and denying the three main leaders of the union their trade union immunity, rejecting their status as full-time union reps, issuing requests to dismiss them and unfairly retaining their wages in the last 6 months.

Transnational companies violating workers' rights: Workers at Orinoco Iron ("Siderúrgica del Orinoco", SIDOR) insisted that the multinational Ternium discuss their collective agreement; however, the company repeatedly refused to listen to their demands. Faced with this rejection, the workers have been continuing to ask the State to enforce their rights.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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