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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Venezuela

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Venezuela, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cabf2.html [accessed 29 November 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

Collective bargaining and the right to strike continue to be steadily weakened, in most cases as a result of the political conflict between the government and opposition trade union organisations. The criminalisation of labour protests and demonstrations, as well as the interference of the National Executive Council (CNE) in internal elections are further undermining the loss of trade union independence.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association – restrictions 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, some legislative measures are not in line with ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

The 2006 Regulation on the Organic Labour Act (LOT) introduced a number of improvements in the legislation and incorporated some of the observations and recommendations issued by the ILO, whilst introducing some restrictions on freedom of association. The improvements include the setting of the minimum wage based on social dialogue at the 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 People's Power Ministry of Labour and Social Security (Minpptrass), 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.

Right to strike: The inclusion of Articles 357 and 360 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. Similarly, the Special Law on People's Defence against Monopolies, Speculation and Boycotts sets out limitations on workers' protests and other forms of social mobilisation.

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 non-renewable and subject 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 Minpptrass, 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 2008

Background: There was no dialogue between the government and the trade unions, thus leaving workers with little or no say in the nationalisation of companies in the iron and steel and the cement sectors. Although approval of the new LOT was part of the constitutional reform promoted by the President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez, it has still not been approved after several years of discussion. The number of trade unions increased, but the proportion of workers covered by collective agreements continued to fall. Several trade union leaders were killed in the disputes between the different factions in the construction and oil industries. Rising inflation weakened purchasing power based on the cost of the basic food basket. Some 40% of workers are in the informal economy.

Freedom of association violated: Although the International Labour Conference in June withdrew Venezuela from the list of countries that most violated Conventions 87 and 98, there were several complaints in 2008 of government interference in freedom of association rights. According to the ILO's Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), the National Electoral Council (CNE) undermined trade union autonomy by granting itself powers over the organisation of internal elections. One case in point was the refusal of the National Pipelines Institute (INC) to recognise the representative status of the INC Workers and Mariners Union (Sutomin), on the grounds that the CNE still had to organise the union elections. At the same time, since the government has promoted trade union "parallelism" at every level, a prominent new national trade union centre, the Workers' Bolivarian Socialist Force (FSBT), has been created as a counterweight to the trade unions that do not support the Minpptrass policies or who oppose the government.

Violence linked to the fight for jobs: A delicate issue for the labour world in Venezuela is the persistence of violent disputes over the right to work, which have cost the lives of at least 19 trade unionists and 10 other workers, according to figures from the Venezuela Education Programme for Action on Human Rights (Provea), a human rights NGO. The situation is particularly acute in the construction and oil industries, where various interest groups and mafias have clashed over the negotiation and sale of jobs, which is affecting trade union activity per se. Although there has been a fall in the number of murders linked to the fight over jobs in comparison with the previous year (from 48 to 29 for the period from October 2007 to September 2008), no investigations have yet been opened into the causes of and those responsible for these deaths. The High Level Negotiating Committee of workers' and government representatives set up in 2007 to find solutions to this violence was abandoned without achieving any tangible results.

In January, Orlando Chirino, National Coordinator for the National Workers' Union (UNT) and a member of the United Petroleum Workers' National Union (Sinutrapetrol), was unfairly suspended from his job by Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) for opposing government policies.

In March, workers from the steelworkers' union SUTISS went on a 48-hour strike in protest at delays in collective bargaining at the Orinoco Iron and Steel Company (Sidor), after the High Level Negotiating Committee's work was suspended. Fifty-three trade unionists were arrested during confrontations with the police.

In April, Armando Guerra, a trade unionist from Hidrocapital, was dismissed in retaliation for demanding better working conditions and recognition of the trade union by the company.

In December, four trade union leaders, Richard Gallardo, José Requena, Luis Hernández and Simón Caldera, were murdered in Aragua state. They were gunned down as they left the premises of the Colombian-owned Alpina company. The killing happened during a dispute with the company's owners over violations of the collective agreement.

Social dialogue: Social dialogue between the public authorities and the trade unions has been undermined by trade union "parallelism". The number of trade unions has grown, but the number of workers covered by collective agreements has fallen. One result of this situation was that the government decided unilaterally on an increase in the minimum wage without negotiating with the trade unions.

Right to strike: On at least 70 occasions, articles 357 and 360 of the Penal Code and article 56 of the Organic Security Law that penalise the right to strike and to hold peaceful demonstrations have been used. Several organisations have expressed their concern at statements made by the Miranda State Public Prosecutor, Omaira Camacho, who threatened to take legal action against teaching unions that continued to disrupt teachers' work to add pressure to the demands by the Teaching Workers' Union Sitraenseñanza and the Miranda State Education Workers' Union Sireem for compliance with the article in the collective agreement that stipulates that teachers have the right to a retirement pension after 20 years' service.

Collective bargaining: There was an increase in the number of collective agreements submitted to the Labour Inspectorate in 2008, reflecting an increase in workers' demands and in recognition of their rights. Despite this, however, the number of workers covered by collective bargaining fell significantly in relation to previous years, mainly because the collective bargaining process was not conducted at national level. There were repeated delays in collective bargaining in the public sector, as well as an absence of social dialogue and tripartite meetings. The National Federation of Public Sector Workers (Fetrasep) repeatedly asked the Labour Ministry to resume the collective bargaining process (their collective agreement had expired four years ago). According to Provea's annual report, approximately 243 public sector collective agreements had not been signed, affecting over 1.5 million civil servants, public sector workers and their families.

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