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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bolivia

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 - Bolivia, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caffc.html [accessed 21 September 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: 9,240,700
Capital: Sucre
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Strikes and stoppages continued during 2008, aggravated by the wave of dismissals in the mining industry and public sector. The disputes arising from the separatist movement in the Media Luna prefectures caused the deaths of 16 rural workers and left dozens injured. Trade union organisations also rallied in support of the constitutional changes proposed by the ruling Movement for Socialism party (MAS), in particular the reform of the pensions system and labour legislation.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The Constitution recognises the right to organise as a means of workers' defence, representation, assistance, education and culture. The General Labour Act, dating back to 1942, contains many restrictions on this right, however, as it requires prior government authorisation to establish a union and permits only one union per enterprise. Some categories of agricultural workers are denied the right to organise, as they are excluded from the scope of the law. Company or branch unions can only be formed if there is a minimum of 20 workers, while industrial unions need the support of at least 50% of the workforce in order to be established. The law also denies public servants the right to organise, with the exception of health, education and oil industry workers.

The law provides for labour inspectors to attend union meetings and monitor union activities, and allows for trade union organisations to be dissolved by administrative means. Members of trade union executive boards must be Bolivian by birth and must work for the same company as the workers they represent. Both requirements restrict the right of workers to elect their representatives freely. The law does not allow trade unions to join international organisations.

Supreme Decree no. 29539 of 1 May 2008 stipulates that the trade union immunity referred to in Law no. 3352 applies from the date the union leader is elected, replacing the previous rule that made immunity subject to recognition from the Ministry of Labour and thereby removing the risk that union leaders could be dismissed during that procedure.

In October 2007, the government reported on the outcome of consultations on the preliminary draft of the Procedural Labour Code, which was submitted to workers' and employers' organisations for their observations. The law – which has yet to be approved – establishes the incontrovertibility and protection of workers' rights, and that labour justice should be genuinely free of charge. It imposes sanctions on civil servants in the event of delayed justice, unfair collection of payments and other practices contrary to labour justice.

The new Constitution, whose text was approved in a Constituent Assembly on 26 December 2007 and was due to be submitted to a referendum in January 2009, extends the right to organise and to collective bargaining, ensuring greater protection for trade unions and trade union leaders. It also recognises the right of rural workers and self-employed workers to strike and to form and join unions.

Collective bargaining: Public sector workers not employed in the administration of the State and agricultural workers are amongst those who are still denied this right.

Right to strike: Strikes in public services, including banks and public markets, are banned by law. For other workers, the right to strike is subject to strict conditions. In order for a strike to be declared legal within a company, the strike must be supported by three quarters of the workers. Compulsory arbitration may be imposed in order to put an end to a strike in sectors that are not considered essential by the ILO. General strikes and solidarity strikes are totally prohibited. Where a strike is declared illegal, those who took part in it may be sentenced to prison terms of one to five years, with forced labour as an additional punishment, in line with the Bolivian Criminal Code (art. 234).

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: In 2008 Bolivia's domestic agenda focussed on the referendum that ratified the position of Evo Morales as President of the Republic, against a background of conflict with the National Democratic Congress (CONALDE), composed of the "separatist" provinces of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando, Beni and Chuquisaca. On the labour front, the principal subject of debate was the Compulsory Social Security Act, which establishes a system of individual distribution. Unemployment in the mining sector, a result of the world economic crisis, led to angry labour disputes in the last few months of the year. There was an increase in strikes and other protests about the denial of workers' rights and company level collective agreements.

Social and political repression: Harassment and violence against trade union leaders and social movements continued in 2008. The most serious events took place during the week of 11 to 16 September when, following the rallies and demonstrations to support or oppose the CONALDE's separatist movement, 16 rural workers were murdered in the Tres Barracas region near the town of Porvenir. According to the Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights (APDHB), the murders were carried out by paramilitary forces linked to the prefect of the Pando Department, Leopoldo Fernández. The final toll of the "Pando massacre" included 15 arrests, over 30 wounded, and over 100 disappearances, mostly rural workers who supported the MAS..

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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