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MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST
Colombia: Human Rights
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New South Wales
- Question No.
Cameron, Sen Doug
Colombia: Human Rights
Matters of Public Interest
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- Start of Business
- QUESTION TIME
- TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2009 BUDGET MEASURES NO. 1) BILL 2009
- HEALTH WORKFORCE AUSTRALIA BILL 2009
- RURAL ADJUSTMENT AMENDMENT BILL 2009
- SOCIAL SECURITY AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (PENSION REFORM AND OTHER 2009 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2009
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Coonan, Sen Helen, Sherry, Sen Nick)
(Polley, Sen Helen, Sherry, Sen Nick)
Australian Building and Construction Commission
(Fisher, Sen Mary Jo, Arbib, Sen Mark)
(Siewert, Sen Rachel, Ludwig, Sen Joe)
Building the Education Revolution Program
(Mason, Sen Brett, Carr, Sen Kim)
(Moore, Sen Claire, Wong, Sen Penny)
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- QUESTION TIME
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- PULP AND PAPER MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- CLIMATE CHANGE
- PARTHENON MARBLES
- DIGITAL BROADCASTING
- TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (GUARANTEED LOWEST PRICES—BLACKTOWN AMENDMENT) BILL 2009
- MARRIAGE EQUALITY AMENDMENT BILL 2009
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- Scrutiny of Bills Committee
- Senators’ Interests Committee
- Public Accounts and Audit Committee
- Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee: Joint
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- AUDITOR-GENERAL’S REPORTS
- AUSTRALIAN BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION COMMISSIONER
- DELEGATION REPORTS
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Senator CAMERON (12:45 PM) —I rise on a matter of public interest concerning the murder of trade unionists in Colombia and the violation of the human rights of Colombian trade unionists. The International Trade Union Confederation has recently published its 2009 annual survey of trade union violations. The survey makes some grim reading. It is worth quoting from the executive summary of the survey. The survey is one of the International Trade Union Confederation’s ways of highlighting and documenting the continuous and fundamental breaches of trade union rights around the world. It reads:
As you open this year’s Annual Survey of Trade Union Violations, you may be thinking of the terrifying impact of the global financial and economic crisis which hit millions of working women and men around the world in both industrialised and developing countries in 2008.
The crisis emphasises the need to develop a global economy based on decent jobs and social justice and it underlines the need for a better distribution of wealth. Instead workers everywhere have begun to feel the full impact of surging unemployment on their lives and that of their families and communities as decent work and decent jobs disappear. They have also begun to see the growing impact on their rights at work.
Trade union rights are universally-recognised human rights at work. Two key International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions which define and guarantee them (conventions 87 and 98) have been ratified by 149 and 159 Member States of the ILO, respectively, out of a total of 182 worldwide.
Despite this formal recognition by governments, the ITUC is, this year again, documenting the continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights. This Survey is one of the ITUC’s means to expose and denounce those violations through its overview of the trade union rights situation in the world in 2008.
Countries where widespread and grave anti-union practices have unfortunately continued include: Colombia, Burma, Belarus, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. Countries such as Honduras and Guatemala should this year be added to this list. In many other countries, where violations are not as outrageous, there is an overall growing tendency to undermine workers’ rights. Interference in trade union activities has been reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Venezuela, among others. Despite some legislative proposals or measures in some Middle East countries and Gulf States, migrant workers are still denied trade union rights in many countries. In addition to that, companies continued to take advantage of poor legislation and weak implementation to undermine workers’ rights.
Worldwide in 2008, at least 76 labour activists were killed as a result of their actions for workers’ rights.
Seventy-six unionists were killed. It continues:
Latin America remains the deadliest continent for trade unionists with over 66 murdered in 2008. 49 Colombian trade unionists lost their lives (including 16 union leaders, 4 of whom were women), a 25% increase over 2007. Trade unionists were also killed in Guatemala (9), Honduras (3) and Venezuela (4) among others. In Asia, at least 6 murders were reported … as well as 3 in Africa … and 1 in the Middle East …
In countries in every region, trade unions continue to be banned, or their establishment restricted. China still bans independent trade unions. Those attempting to unionise groups of workers or organise protests are often arrested, with some given prison sentences and others condemned to ‘re-education through work’.
Certain categories of workers also continue to be excluded. This includes public servants, agricultural workers, migrant and domestic workers … The right to strike is often unduly limited, with lists of public services in which strike action is restricted going far beyond the ILO definition.
Again this year, several thousand trade unionists and workers were dismissed for participating in strike actions or protests; thousands more were harassed or discriminated against and hundreds arrested. The situation of domestic workers, mostly women and migrant workers in the Middle East and the Gulf States as well as some African and Asian countries, is also disturbing. Outright denial and other violations of labour and trade union rights were common in export processing zones, for example in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Swaziland, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius and Pakistan.
Furthermore, the ongoing globalisation of the world economy coupled with the global financial and economic crisis put inordinate pressure on labour markets, working conditions and workers’ rights everywhere. Workers continue to be threatened by employers with relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences for the effective exercise of their trade union rights.
New forms of employment relationships are also affecting fundamental rights. The use of bogus self-employment as well as subcontractors or labour agencies is increasing in industrialised and developing countries. This report documents cases in Korea, Croatia, Poland, Montenegro, Georgia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Africa, Chad and Morocco, amongst others. Sadly, we can only fear that next year’s Survey will paint a worsening picture.
It is a matter of grave concern that, worldwide in 2008, 76 labour activists were killed as a result of their actions for workers rights. Latin America remains the deadliest region for trade unionists, with over 66 murdered in 2008. The most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade union activist remains Colombia—and we have a Colombian delegation in parliament today, and we have had the Colombian trade minister here recently. In Colombia, 49 unionists were murdered, including 16 union leaders, four of whom were women. This is an increase of 25 per cent over what happened in 2007.
My former union, the AMWU, has had an interest in the situation in Colombia for many years. The AMWU has led two ACTU delegations to Colombia, in October 2003 and November 2005. The leader of those delegations, former national organiser Pat Johnson, has reported on the huge challenges facing the trade union movement in Colombia. The assassination of union activists in Colombia required the ACTU delegations to be escorted by armed bodyguards in armour-plated vehicles. When the delegations moved around Colombia they also had a police escort. That is the reality of trade unionism in Colombia, which, as I have indicated, is the most dangerous place to be a unionist in the world.
The US Department of State in its 2008 human rights report on Colombia noted that the government’s respect for human rights continues to improve, particularly with progress in implementing the Justice and Peace Law. Despite this, the report identifies continuing governmental human rights abuses, including:
… unlawful and extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; insubordinate military collaboration with new illegal groups and paramilitaries who refused to demobilize; torture and mistreatment of detainees; overcrowded and insecure prisons; arbitrary arrest; high number of pretrial detainees, some of whom were held with convicted prisoners; impunity; an inefficient judiciary subject to intimidation; harassment and intimidation of journalists; unhygienic conditions at settlements for displaced persons, with limited access to health care, education, or employment; corruption; harassment of human rights groups; violence against women, including rape; child abuse and child prostitution; trafficking in women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation; societal discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and minorities; and illegal child labor.
Figures from the Colombian National Labor School show that 2,694 union workers between January 1986 and December 2008 were killed—one victim every three days. There were 9,911 violations against the ‘life, liberty and physical integrity’ of unionists over the same period. Thirty-five per cent of these were during the Uribe administration—that is, since August 2002. Such violations include illegal searches, kidnapping, murder and arbitrary arrest. Murders of trade unionists rose from 39 in 2007 to 49 in 2008. There were 485 threats against trade unionists in 2008, up from 246 a year before. Only three million of Colombia’s 18 million workers are legally able to join a union. Between 1996-97 and 2006-07, the number of workers covered by collective agreements declined by 62 per cent.
There is a concern that the Uribe government continues to undermine unionists who speak out against threats to their lives, and even those who are murdered. In 2004, Vice President Francisco Santos, when told of the deaths of three union leaders in Arauca, publicly stated that they were guerrillas killed in combat. A subsequent investigation found that Colombian army soldiers had executed the unionists, even though they had no links with any illegal armed groups. President Uribe stated in 2007 that a murdered unionist was a terrorist, and has this year denounced academics and unionists who have criticised Colombia’s human rights as an ‘intellectual bloc’ of FARC guerrillas motivated by political hatred.
As at 9 May 2009, 19 trade unionists had been killed since 1 January. Pablo Rodriguez Garavito and Jorge Humberto Echaverri Garro, teachers affiliated to the Arauca teachers association, were brutally murdered by unknown gunmen just two weeks ago. The ITUC has joined with its regional organisation the TUCA in condemning these murders. The Colombian government has once again been questioned by the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards over the lack of guarantees for the exercise of trade union rights.
The chain of impunity prevailing in Colombia against trade unionists being killed and intimidated must stop. In a statement on 15 March 2009, the Minister for Trade, the Hon. Simon Crean, said that, as a result of domestic economic reform in Colombia, there are growing trade and investment links between Australia and Colombia, warranting talks between the two countries aimed at building bilateral trade and investment opportunities, including the possibility of a free trade agreement.
Both Norway and the United States have withdrawn from free trade negotiations with Colombia because of the escalation of violence and the impunity granted to its perpetrators. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on 14 January 2009:
… continued violence and impunity in Colombia directed at labor and other civic leaders makes labor protections impossible to guarantee in Colombia today.
Colombia must improve its efforts.
Australia should join the United States and Norway in withdrawing from any negotiations on a free trade agreement until the violence against trade unionists is stopped. I have just outlined the statistics, but these are dead human beings whose families are left to deal with what has been dealt to them. In my view it is absolutely essential that we welcome the Colombian delegation here but we send a message to them that it is unacceptable— (Time expired)