Population: 28,600,000
Capital: Caracas
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138

Violence linked to the fight for jobs continued to be the main reason behind the killing of trade unionists. Unjustified delays in collective bargaining negotiations were common practice, both in the public and private sectors. The legislation prevents trade unions from carrying out their activities freely.

Trade union rights in law

Despite constitutional guarantees, trade union rights are not adequately protected. Workers have the right to form and join trade unions, however the law requires a minimum of 100 members in order to create a union. It also requires that the union submit full information regarding its members' identity, place of residence together with their signature. Furthermore, unions are not free to organise their internal administration. The Constitution requires union constitutions to make their leaders' mandates non-renewable, and foreigners are not allowed to belong to a union's executive body unless they have lived in the country for 10 years. The Constitution also provides that trade union elections shall be announced, organised, directed and supervised by the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is not a judicial organ. Finally, the Penal Code undermines, through the application of penalties, the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and the right to strike and block a company's production.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The government held a referendum aimed at amending the Constitution, to allow representatives elected by popular vote to stand for re-election indefinitely. The reform was approved on 15 February 2009 by 54.36% of the electorate, and will allow the current president, Hugo Chavez, to stand as a presidential candidate indefinitely.

The government's refusal to engage in social dialogue and establish tripartite consultations on policies affecting workers' conditions and living standards led to numerous trade union protests.

Strategies undermining collective bargaining: Unjustified delays in collective bargaining negotiations were common practice during 2009, both in the public and private sectors, giving rise to many trade union protests. The delays resulted in the expiry and failure to renew many collective agreements. By June 2009, 243 collective agreements were left unsigned and over 3,500 agreements had not been discussed.

Collective agreement breached by Metro de Caracas: The Caracas metro workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores del Metro de Caracas (Sintrameca), reached a contractual agreement with the state-owned company in 2008. Following the approval of the referendum on 15 February 2009, the government refused to recognise the agreement and called on the union to hold renewed negotiations, based on the proposals presented by the Transport and Communications Ministry. This erratic move by the government shows a total disregard for the negotiations that had been held and the agreements in force, as well as attacking the union's right to freely decide on its initiatives and action plan, and undermining the right to collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining violations in education sector: The Education and Labour Ministries have been delaying the launch of negotiations on the Fifth Collective Agreement for the Venezuelan education sector for over two years. The government finally called the meeting on 8 May 2009, but only invited the union organisations that support the government's policy, Sindicato Nacional de la Fuerza Unitaria del Magisterio (Sinafum), Federación Venezolana de Maestros (FVM), and Federación de Educadores de Venezuela (FEV), and went on to sign a collective agreement with them. Six other teaching federations (Fetraenseñanza, Fetramagisterio, Fetrasined, Fenaprodo, Feslev and Fenatev) were thus excluded, on the pretext that they had not met the requirements for holding trade union elections and presenting financial reports to the National Electoral Council (CNE). The organisations excluded pointed out that the agreement signed was later used to advance elements of an Education Act that failed to consider the main actors and was not the product of a wide and inclusive debate.

Multinational tramples workers' rights and refuses to sign collective agreement: During 2009, the Éxito supermarket chain, owned by the French group Casino, showed complete disregard for trade union rights and the workers' calls for decent working conditions, leading its employees to stage a number of protests throughout the year. On 13 November, a group of workers affiliated to the commercial workers' union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Unidos del Comercio y Afines (Sintruco), gathered to demand that the company respect its rights and sign a collective agreement that had already been under discussion for two years.

Interference in union elections at PDVSA: The Venezuelan petroleum company, Empresa de Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), called on the petroleum and gas workers' federation, Federación Unitaria de Trabajadores del Petróleo, del Gas, sus Similares y Derivados de Venezuela (FUTPV), to hold elections to allow for the launch of collective bargaining talks in the sector, where the collective agreement had expired almost a year prior. After facing a series of obstacles raised by the National Electoral Council (CNE), the elections were finally held on 1 October 2009. The negotiations were subsequently initiated but no agreement had been reached by December 2009.

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