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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Colombia

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 - Colombia, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 16 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: 46,295,000
Capital: Bogotá

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))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: 29
Attempted Murders: 10
Threats: 342
Imprisonments: 16
Dismissals: 43

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Although some progress has been made, the longstanding violence against the Colombian trade union movement continues to plague the country and trade unionists are still being killed, forcibly disappeared and intimidated. Twenty nine trade unionists were murdered in 2011. While some efforts have been made to investigate these crimes, the majority of the cases reported by trade union organisations remain unsolved. The state clearly lacks the capacity to protect trade union rights. The vice president of the Republic, speaking on behalf of the government, has recognised the scale of the violence, something previous governments have never done.


On 7 April, President Santos signed an action plan with President Obama on labour rights, in which the Colombian government undertook to do away with the so-called associated labour cooperatives, to offer protection to trade unionists and to take measures to tackle anti-union violence, as well as restoring the Labour Ministry that was suppressed by the previous government. The United States Congress ratified the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement based on the partial fulfilment of this Action Plan.

In May, a tripartite agreement was signed by the government, employers and one of Colombia's trade union centres. The agreement fails to cover a number of important issues, such as the negotiated establishment of regulations guaranteeing collective bargaining rights in the public sector.

Trade union rights in law

A number of recent advances have been made in the trade union rights situation, particularly in terms of the autonomy and independence of trade union organisations. New laws and court rulings have improved protection against anti-union discrimination and interference, the recognition of trade unions and bargaining in the public sector, and have set out clear limits for compulsory arbitration. Freedom of association is also enshrined as a basic right in the Constitution. There are, however, problems related to various contractual arrangements, such as the associated labour cooperatives (CTA), service contracts and civil and commercial contracts, which disguise genuine employment relationships and are used to prevent workers from setting up trade unions. As regards the associated labour cooperatives, the government passed a Decree in 2011 stating that no worker, including workers in such cooperatives, may be hired without being covered by the labour rights established by law. It also established heavy fines for employers misusing such contractual arrangements.

The right to collective bargaining is legally recognised. Pensions are not, however, covered by collective agreements. Legislation was passed in 2011 to tackle the widespread practice of concluding collective "pacts" directly with workers to undermine the position of trade unions. The law fixes penalties for those concluding pacts that grant better conditions as a whole to non-unionised workers, relative to the conditions established in collective agreements with unionised workers in the same company. As some affiliates have pointed out, however, applying this law is complex and will depend on how the judge in question assesses the benefits "as a whole".

The right to strike is included in the Constitution, but the law still prohibits federations and confederations from calling strikes. Laws dating back to between 1956 and 1990, which ban strikes, remain applicable to a wide range of public services that are not necessarily essential.

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

In practice

Police repression of striking workers:

Anti-union discrimination and the criminalisation of strike action are among the practices undermining social dialogue. One example is the Campo Rubiales oil fields case. The appalling conditions to which subcontracted workers are subjected by the Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales led to strike on 19 July 2011 by 1,100 contract workers employed by Montajes JM. The action met with brutal police repression.

Nineteen workers were fired a few days later on being found with trade union bulletins. On 18 September, another strike was called in protest at the failure to honour the agreements reached to end the previous stoppage and the inadequacy of the health and safety measures taken. The action was joined by 11,000 workers from 16 companies.

ILO Mission notes rights violations: The year 2011 began with the visit of an ILO high-level mission, which saw evidence of the violations long suffered by the Colombian trade union movement, and issued a series of recommendations accompanied by deadlines for their implementation and measures for the protection of freedom of association. The implementation of many of these recommendations remained pending at the end of 2011, despite the expiry of the deadlines set.

Anti-union violence and impunity persists:

Unscrupulous employers have reacted to the recent legal and judicial advances with aggressive measures to stop trade unions from organising or operating. The anti-union culture and lack of effective mechanisms to protect trade unions are clearly still a reality. Both labour inspectors and judges take years to resolve disputes, which impacts negatively on union membership.

In 2011, there were 480 violations of trade unionists' rights to life, freedom and physical integrity in Colombia. The 29 murders, three forced disappearances, 10 attempted murders, 342 threats, 43 acts of harassment, 34 forced displacements, 16 arbitrary detentions, two cases of torture and one abduction are evidence of the violence that still exists and continues to affect workers' ability to exercise their trade union rights and freedoms. The presumed authors of these crimes are unknown in 337 cases. Of the 143 remaining, 104 (72.7%) were perpetrated by paramilitaries, 34 cases (23.8%) by state agencies, three (2.1%) by guerrilla groups, and one case (0.7%) was attributed to common crime and another to an employer.

An important conviction was achieved for the trade union movement in relation to the murder in September 2004 of Professor Alfredo Correa de Andreis, leader of the university lecturers' union Asociación Sindical de Profesores Universitarios (ASPU). Although sentences have been issued in the past convicting those responsible for planning and perpetrating murders, this is the first case in which the state has been convicted. The sentence recognised the systematic persecution of the trade unionist, who was subjected to legal prosecution and arrested then murdered within the framework of an alliance between paramilitaries and the national intelligence service (DAS).

Associated labour cooperatives change name: The case of Colombia's dock workers illustrates the inadequacy of the regulations to tackle the problem of labour outsourcing through the system of associated labour cooperatives. Despite the enactment of Decree 2025, labour subcontracting has not been eradicated in the ports of Buenaventura, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta, nor have the port companies directly hired the workers from associated labour cooperatives, in line with the spirit of the legislation. The associated labour cooperatives have been turned into temporary employment agencies or SAS (simplified stock companies), thus changing legal form but carrying out the same intermediary role and activities as the associated labour cooperatives. The Unión Portuaria, bringing together the union organisations representing port workers across the country, has filed several complaints and actions with the courts and labour inspectors, but the state has either failed to respond or been ineffective in its response.


Anti-union persecution:

Members of the union at Minipak, Sindicato de Trabajadores de Minipak (Sintraminipak), have been facing harassment for belonging to this organisation. Reprisals have been taken against executive members of the union, for example, such as unjustified disciplinary measures ranging from 15 to 45 days suspensions from work without pay and without due process. The administrative action taken to protest these measures did not succeed in protecting the trade union organisation.

The Coveñas municipal public employees' union Sindempcov, in Sucre, were faced with anti-union persecution, harassment and abuses as of February 2011. Several public servants were dismissed, including one employee with trade union immunity. This dismissal was accepted by a number of judges, disregarding the protection established by law for trade union representatives.

OMA restaurants violate freedom of association: Workers employed by the OMA restaurant chain formed a union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Restcafé OMA S.A. (Sintraoma Colombia), affiliated to the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT). The management dismissed at least 19 workers in a bid to crush the union, and the members of the union executive were offered benefits to withdraw from the organisation. They also changed the permanent contracts of longstanding workers to fixed-term contracts, to stop them from organising. The CGT presented action for protection. In a decision issued on 18 May 2011, the court ordered that the right to organise should be protected but the management ignored the ruling, which gave rise to contempt proceedings before the municipal civil court. On 14 September 2011, the court ruled that the right to organise should be protected and ordered the payment of a fine equal to five legal minimum wages. The company was also ordered to reinstate the unfairly dismissed workers.

Trade union rights violated at BRINKS: BRINKS of Colombia waged a constant campaign of persecution against members of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de BRINKS S.A. de Colombia (Sintrabrinks), violating the fundamental right to freedom of association. In addition to the constant dismissals, the company held meetings with unionised workers, to persuade them to withdraw from the organisation. If it fails to convince them, the company undertakes discharge proceedings to intimidate them, which have resulted in dismissals in some cases.

Murders, attempted murders and disappearances:

According to the figures on violence against trade unionists, 2,914 trade unionists were killed in Colombia between 1 January 1986 and 31 December 2011; 2,643 were men and 274 were women, and 26,4% of those murdered, that is 772, were trade union leaders.

The data gathered over this period indicates that there were at least 11,942 violations of trade unionists' right to life, freedom and physical integrity in Colombia. In addition, 290 attempts on the lives of unionised workers and 222 forced disappearances were registered, and at least 5,397 trade unionists received death threats and 1,776 were forcibly displaced. These figures vouch for the existence of a human rights crisis not consistent with random and indiscriminate violence. They reflect a policy of extermination, implemented over a sustained period and manifested by the thousands of lives claimed.

Manuel Esteban Tejada was murdered on 10 January 2011. He was a teacher at the Palma Soriana educational institution in the municipality of Planeta Rica, in the department of Cordoba, and was affiliated to the teachers' association of Cordoba, ADEMACOR.

Humberto de Jesús Espinoza Díaz was murdered on 30 January. He was a members of the teaching union of Risaralda Sindicato de Educadores de Risaralda (SER). He had received threats on numerous occasions and had requested protection but was not granted it.

Carlos Alberto Ayala was murdered on 5 February by gunmen who were waiting for him near his home. He was a member of the teachers' association of Putumayo Asociación de Educadores del Putumayo (ASEP) and director of the Caucasia Rural Educational Institution.

Gloria Constanza Gaona was murdered on 22 March on leaving her vehicle and heading for the court where she worked. She was approached by a hit man who shot her several times. She was a judge at the criminal court of Saravena (Arauca) and was dealing with the case involving the rape of two girls aged 13 and 14, and the murder of one of them along with her two brothers aged nine and six, in October, in Tame.

Agricultural unionists Héctor Orozco and Gildardo García were murdered on 30 March as they went home by motorbike. The killing took place in a heavily militarised zone, less than four metres away from where national army troops are permanently stationed.

Ramiro Sánchez, affiliated to the contractors' association ASOGRECON, was murdered on 8 April by two men on a motorbike in the municipality of Puerto Boyacá, in the department of Boyacá.

Luis Alberto Bohórquez Chávez, a teacher affiliated to the Asociación de Institutores del Caquetá (AICA), was murdered on 10 April on returning to his farm in the rural area of the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán.

Luci Florez Ricardo, a teacher belonging to the teachers' association of Córdoba ADEMACOR, was murdered on 3 May in the municipality of Ayapel, in the department of Córdoba.

Ramiro Antonio Sánchez was murdered on 8 April. He was a member of the Magdalena Medio workers' association ASPTMEM and a trade union leader in the municipality of Puerto Boyacá. He had led a stoppage between 11 and 25 January 2011.

Juan Carlos Chagüi Cueter was murdered on 15 May in the city of Barranquilla, in the department of Atlántico. He was employed at the Modelo prison and was a member of the prison guards' union Sindicato Gremial de la Guardia del Inpec (SIGGINPEC). He had filed several complaints regarding the lack of order and discipline in prisons and had received death threats from jailed paramilitary groups. He filed the relevant complaints with the Public Prosecutor's Office, but they were not dealt with in time.

Dionis Alfredo Sierra Vergara, a teacher affiliated to Ademacor, was murdered on 15 May 2011 in the municipality of La Apartada, in the department of Córdoba, whilst celebrating teachers' days along with various other teachers. He received a call on his mobile phone and on going out to answer it he was shot down by unknown assailants and died on the spot after being hit by three bullets.

Carlos Arturo Castro Casas, a member of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Empresas Municipales de Cali (Sintraemcali), was murdered on 23 May. He was driving in his car when he was shot in the neck. He was immediately taken to the Carlos Holmes Trujillo Hospital, where he died.

Freddy Antonio Cuadrado Nuñez, a teacher affiliated to the Sindicato de Educadores Unidos del Magdalena (EDUMAG) was killed on 27 May.

Carlos Julio Gómez, a teacher affiliated to the Sindicato Único de la Educación del Valle (SUTEV), was murdered on 29 May.

Jorge Eliécer de los Ríos Cárdenas was murdered on 8 June 2011. He was a member of the Sindicato de Educadores de Risaralda (SER). He was an environmental activist and had spoken out in the press against the mining operations of a multinational in the municipality of Quinchía.

Lucey Abril Camacho was murdered on 18 June in San José de Pare, in the department of Boyacá. She was affiliated to the teachers' union Sindicato de Maestros de Boyacá (Sindimaestros).

Alejandro José Peñata López, a teacher affiliated to Ademacor, disappeared on 20 June on leaving the school where he was working. His family and friends organised a search and found his dead body the same day. His body bore signs of torture and he had been hung with barbed wire.

Rafael Tobón Zea, a mining union leader with the Sindicato Regional de Trabajadores de la Industria Minera y Energética (Sintramienergetica), was murdered on 26 July by paramilitaries in the municipality of Segovia, in the department of Antioquia.

Wilmar Serna, an employee and member of the workers' committee at the Cantho farm, and Eduardo Fabián Zúñiga Vásquez, a banana worker at Las Niñas farm, both of which are owned by the Sarapalma group, were murdered on 31 July in La Martina park in the municipality of Apartadó, in the department of Antioquia.

Eduardo Moisés Aponza, a member of Simana-Tumaco, was murdered on 27 July in Guayacana, in the department of Nariño.

Luis Armando Oki Uragama, an indigenous teachers and member of Umach, was murdered on 2 August in the municipality of Tadó, in the department of Chocó.

María Eugenia Arango Zapata, a teacher affiliated to the Asociación de Institutores de Antioquia (ADIDA), was murdered on 10 August.

Luis Alfonso Díaz Villa, a member of the Sindicato de los Trabajadores y Empleados Universitarios de Colombia (Sintraunicol), was murdered on 22 August in the city of Montería, in the department of Córdoba.

Nallyd Tapias Jiménez, a teacher affiliated to ADIDA, was murdered on 1 September after finishing her day's work at the Centro Educativo Rural Piedrecitas in the municipality of Arboletes, Antioquia.

Luis Humberto Durante Álvarez, a member of the agricultural workers' union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria Agropecuaria (SINTRAINAGRO), was murdered on 3 September. He was on the SINTRAINAGRO workers' committee at El Cortijo banana plantation.

José Alberto Martínez Santander, a teacher in the Santander district in the municipality of Astrea, was murdered on 3 September.

Jorge Alberto Duarte, a farm worker affiliated to SINTRAINAGRO, was murdered on 3 September in the municipality of Apartadó, Antioquia.

Libardo Rodallega, a teacher affiliated to the Asociación de Institutores del Cauca (ASOINCA), was murdered on 28 September in the municipality of San Isidro in Cauca.

Isidro Rivera Barrera, a member of the oil workers' union Unión Sindical de la Industria del Petróleo (USO), was murdered on 26 September by armed men outside his home in the city of Barrancabermeja, in the department of Santander.

Luis Arbey Quiroz Vivas was murdered on 7 October in the municipality of San Lorenzo, in Nariño, on making his way home. He was a member of the teaching union Sindicato del Magisterio de Nariño (SIMANA) and had been president of the grassroots committee for ten years.

Harvey Quiroz, teacher, trade union and social leader, was murdered on 7 October in the rural area of Corregimiento del Carmen, in the municipality of San Lorenzo. He was shot nine times.

Tarcisio Betancourt Ballesteros, a member of the municipal workers' union Sindicato de Trabajadores del Municipio de Yumbo, was murdered on 8 October on his way to work at the municipal aqueduct, in the Nuevo Horizonte district of Yumbo, where he was employed as a guard. He was shot six times.

John Freddy Carmona Bermúdez, a member of agri-food union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Sistema Agroalimentario (SINALTRAINAL), was murdered on 9 December in Medellin. He worked for biscuit company Noel, a client of Sodexo, and had been missing since 7 December.

Dora Liliana Ochoa Serna, an executive member of her local branch union was murdered on 16 December. She was an active member of the public employees' unions Sindicato de Trabajadores Oficiales y Empleados Públicos de los Municipios de Antioquia (SINTRAOFAN) and Sindicato de Trabajadores Oficiales y Empleados Públicos de los Municipios del Nordeste de Antioquia (SINTRANORDESTE). More than 40 members of SINTRAOFAN have been murdered over the years.

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