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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Bolivia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Bolivia, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
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: 9,930,000
Capital: Sucre

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 10

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


The lack of consultation and agreement over political reforms led to heightened political tensions in 2011. The Plurinational State of Bolivia has not resolved the issue of trade union and workers' rights violations. Indigenous communities and trade unions staged strikes and protests throughout the year to demand respect for their rights.


Indigenous communities and trade unions staged a succession of strikes and protests throughout 2011 to demand respect for their rights. In May, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) called a strike in protest at the wage and pension reforms. Hard-fought for rights, such as reduced working hours in the health sector, were still being violated. Discrimination and abuses at work also persisted. Despite the process of change undertaken to improve living standards, workers are still faced with increasingly precarious employment.

In December, President Evo Morales cancelled plans to remove fuel subsidies following massive protests over the drastic rise in prices.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Bolivia registered progress in the efforts to build a more equal society, especially in terms of life expectancy and education indicators, and extreme poverty reduction, which has fallen over the last ten years from 62.4% to 54%, whilst indigence has fallen from 37% to 31.2%. Extreme inequalities nonetheless remain, with a GINI coefficient of 0.565, placing it fifth in the ranking of countries with the highest inequalities in the region.

Trade union rights in law

The 2009 Constitution improves the protection of trade union rights, however many excessive restrictions remain in the law. While workers enjoy freedom of association, the General Labour Act, dating back to 1942, requires prior government authorisation to establish a union and permits only one union per enterprise. Industrial unions need the support of at least 50% of the workforce in order to be established, and no union may join an international organisation.

Public servants, with some exceptions, are denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively, which is also the case for some categories of agricultural workers. Furthermore, there are restrictions on union internal affairs, as members of the executive boards must be Bolivian by birth, and labour inspectors can attend union meetings and monitor union activities. A trade union can also be dissolved by administrative means.

While the right to strike is guaranteed in the Constitution, all strikes must be supported by three quarters of the workers. Strikes in public services, including banks and public markets, are banned by law, as are general strikes and solidarity strikes. Compulsory arbitration may also be imposed to end a strike or collective dispute in sectors that are not considered essential by the ILO. Finally, workers who participate in an unlawful strike may be sentenced to prison terms of one to five years, with forced labour as an additional punishment.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Government agrees to COB's demands, but slow to implement agreement:

On 2 March, following strong protests and demonstrations by Bolivia's unions, President Evo Morales unilaterally ordered a 10% pay increase for public employees in the education and health sectors, the police and armed forces, and a 20% increase in the minimum wage. The unions were demanding a 15% increase in the public sector. The Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) tried to negotiate with the government, but the workers finally rejected the agreement on a 10% increase. Strikes and protests were resumed. After several long hard days in La Paz, an additional 1% was secured, plus another 1% after July, subject to the availability of sufficient budget funds, hence 2% in total, bringing the rise up to 12%.

On 19 April, the COB signed an eight-point agreement with the government and called an end to the general strike. The document established a pay increase of 11%, and the possibility of raising it to 12% for education and health workers, after indentifying a source of financing that would not lead to a fiscal deficit.

Agreement was also reached on stimulating production, the National Health Fund (CNS), full implementation of trade union immunity provisions, respect for the agreement signed in Panduro in April 2010, measures to guarantee food security and the revision of laws 2027 and 2028 on municipal and public employees, to bring them into line with the new Political Constitution of the State.

The Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) called for protest marches on 6 October to press for the implementation of the agreement signed between the trade union centre and the government in April, to provide the workers with the pay rise promised. At the end of 2011, following the COB's announcement of plans to hold new protests, the government applied the additional 2% rise agreed on.

Protest in support of indigenous peoples' rights brutally repressed: Indigenous peoples' rights, especially the right to consultation, enshrined in ILO Convention 169, were constantly violated. Indigenous peoples conducted a march from Beni to La Paz, between August and October, which was violently dispersed by police. The government passed legislation to resolve the issue, declaring that the indigenous land at the root of the dispute, through which there were plans to build a trans-oceanic highway (Brazil-Chile) was "intangible" (thus protected from outside development). President Morales publically condemned the police's abusive and violent handling of the protest.

Child labour in Bolivia: According to Labour Ministry figures released in June 2011, 850,000 children below the minimum age for admission to employment were involved in economic activities in Bolivia. Out of this total, 354,000 were living in urban areas and 446,000 in rural areas. Most of the children and teenagers in urban areas (41.8%) work as vendors, and the percentage of girls (54.4%) was higher than that of boys (31%). The government has implemented numerous programmes in conjunction with UNICEF and the ILO.


Negotiating difficulties at San Cristóbal mine, controlled by Sumitomo: Workers at the San Cristóbal silver, zinc and lead mines, owned by the Japanese trading company Sumitomo Corporation, downed tools on 23 March 2011 for 12 days in support of demands for better health care benefits. The strike was called off at the end of this period, following the Labour Ministry's intervention, but some of the demands have still not been met.

Refusal to negotiate at PIL dairy company: On 30 March 2011, workers affiliated to the national union of PIL workers SINTRAPIL, employed at the PIL Andina dairy factory, staged a protest march from El Alto, Bolivia, to the Arequipa region in Peru, to the head office of Gloria, the company that owns PIL, to demand respect for their rights and better working conditions, which the firm has being refusing to negotiate since 2010. The workers are demanding that the company recognise their union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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