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New Report: Mother’s Day in the Flower Fields

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Photography: Nadège Mazars / Hans Lucas

Did you know American consumers buy 78% of the flowers produced in Colombia, and will spend roughly two billion dollars on this product flowers this Mother’s Day?

Did you know that 65% of the workers who produce these flowers near Bogota are women? Or that these employees only earn around $8.5 per day? That they have been working an average of 84 hours every week for the last month – in preparation for Mother’s Day -with no days off, sometimes sleeping at their work sites?

Read PASO’s new report HERE.

Watch VIDEOS of two workers explaining their hardships HERE and HERE.

PASO recently accompanied Colombian flower employees to conduct a worker-led investigation, and produce a report, on labor conditions in this sector. Surveys revealed patterns of union-busting, work-related disabilities, and sexual harassment targeting female employees. Some of the more alarming figures:

  • 71% of those employees surveyed believed that overtime in peak seasons was obligatory, although laws and regulations state otherwise.
  • 16% of employees were working these long houses despite having been diagnosed with conditions such as tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and torn rotator cuffs, to avoid being fired due to their medical conditions.
  • 50% of employees felt their health had been negatively impacted by their jobs; percentages increase with the number of years worked – 76% of those who had worked for more than 20 years suffered from medical conditions, almost all related to repetitive actions at work.
  • 20% of the women surveyed reported having suffered sexual harassment or knowing female coworkers who had.
  • Less than 200 employees in the Colombian flower sector, of an estimated 13,000, belong to a union.

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THIS SCANDALOUS SITUATION!!! We can raise awareness this weekend among consumers on Facebook and Twitter, and by tagging the Colombian Labor Ministry @MintrabajoCol and @asocolflores

SHARE OUR FACEBOOK POST HERE!

RETWEET HERE!

 

In Colombia, All-Women Childcare Union Emerges as National Player

Neil Martin; first published by Labor Notes on March 24, 2017

Sixty thousand women childcare workers in Colombia are on the verge of winning pensions and back pay, after decades of making just half the minimum wage.

Their union, Sintracihobi, has been able to achieve these remarkable results—despite representing only a minority of employees in the childcare sector—with an approach that combines legal action, political advocacy, and mass mobilization.

marta garcia2 panorama

Sintracihobi has led a 25-year struggle to defend publicly-funded childcare programs and to end discriminatory labor practices that have targeted some of the country’s most vulnerable female and minority workers, excluding them from pension payments and minimum wages.

The union has drawn on innovative protest tactics, often incorporating traditional cultural actions like Afro-Colombian dances with member-led peaceful occupation of public spaces. Equally important, it has relied on a back-to-basics organizing strategy, holding the endless assemblies, rallies, and meetings all over the country necessary to move thousands of people into action.

STRIKE AND TOPLESS PROTEST

The government provides childcare for 1.2 million of the country’s most vulnerable families through a state agency, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), which subcontracts 120,000 childcare workers through various intermediaries. Almost all are women.

These workers traditionally earned less than half the national minimum wage, approximately $200 per month, despite working long hours and putting their own homes at ICBF’s disposal.

A 2012 Constitutional Court decision ordered ICBF to pay all workers the minimum wage, plus healthcare and pension benefits, but the agency refused to comply. So Sintracihobi organized a month-long national strike in October 2013 to pressure the ICBF and the Treasury Ministry to comply with the decision. Thousands of women participated.

Childcare workers set up encampments outside the offices of ICBF. Three weeks into the strike, a group of women in their fifties and sixties resorted to a topless protest in Bogota’s Bolivar Square, drawing increased media attention. In response, the Treasury finally set aside funding to meet the union’s demands.

PRIVATIZATION THREAT

But big problems remained. Many of Colombia’s childcare providers continue to work into their seventies and eighties, often with work-related disabilities.

The court-mandated pension payments, issued from 2014 on, provided a solution for the next generation of workers—but not for the women who had worked since ICBF programs were launched in the 1980s.

On top of this, the Colombian government has begun to promote the private administration of state-funded childcare programs. Service contracts are being denied to the traditional worker- and parent-run childcare “associations” and instead awarded to “child development centers” run by private NGOs.

A study from the University of the Andes indicated that this predominantly private model is four times as expensive and yields similar results in terms of children’s development. And it has led to the dismissals of thousands of workers over the age of 50 or who suffer from work-related illnesses—with no compensation.

Meanwhile the ICBF and its director Christina Plazas, appointed by President Juan Manuel Santos, have come under policymakers’ scrutiny for alleged nepotism and misappropriation of funds. In early 2016 the union denounced a humanitarian crisis, documenting cases around the country where children enrolled in ICBF programs were dying of malnutrition. The crisis drew wide coverage in the national press.

STRIKE TWO

On April 4, 2016, Sintracihobi went on strike again. Eight thousand women stopped work. Childcare providers marched, sang, danced, set up tents, and camped outside ICBF offices in 24 cities and towns. Other unions, students, and taxi drivers provided the strikers with food and other necessities.

The union demanded that ICBF fix problems with access to food for the children in its programs, end nepotistic contracting practices that favored private foundations, guarantee labor stability for childcare workers, and provide a solution for the pre-2014 outstanding pension payments.

The strike again attracted lots of national press coverage, which put pressure on Director Plazas. The message was simple: bad management, broken promises, and corruption at ICBF had caused a human rights crisis. Children were starving while sick, elderly, and disabled women were forced to keep working to make ends meet. Even in a country where the mass media vilifies unions, this message could not be ignored.

VICTORY

Direct action and news media attention gave the union enough leverage to build a base of support among elected officials and government oversight agencies. That allowed Sintracihobi to negotiate directly with ICBF, as opposed to individual employers.

After a week of negotiations, the union reached an agreement with the ICBF, ranking officials from the ombudsman and inspector general’s offices, and six senators to meet workers’ demands through legislation and internal ICBF policy reforms to be rolled out over the following months.

Sintracihobi then worked with this coalition of senators, led by longtime ally Alexander Lopez of the left-leaning coalition party Polo, to draft and pass comprehensive legislation, establishing that:

  • food provided by ICBF must meet nutritional instead of caloric criteria
  • childcare providers must be reimbursed for the costs of equipment such as stoves and refrigerators
  • a pension subsidy equivalent to the minimum wage must be made available to women who have worked in ICBF programs for more than 20 years

The legislation also improved job security for outsourced ICBF workers and opened the door to the possibility that these jobs could be brought into the public sector in the future.

Colombia’s congress approved the bill in December, but Santos has refused to sign it into law. However, this came on the heels of a landmark decision in which the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that ICBF must pay pension and back pay to childcare workers for years worked prior to 2014.

DEATH THREATS

The joy was short-lived, however. Just a day after the court’s decision, three members of the union’s legal team received death threats.

The culprit has not been identified, but the motive would seem to be tied to the pending implementation of the ruling—one puts the cost at $285 million.

Anti-union violence has been on the decline recently in Colombia. Still, an average of 27 union activists were murdered annually between 2011 and 2015.

It’s clear that the government will look for ways to avoid complying with the sentence. That’s the union’s next big challenge.

ROOTS OF SUCCESS

Sintracihobi’s national leaders are childcare workers who devote their free time to the union. Olinda Garcia, president since 1989, spends almost every weekend traveling around the country to support and help organize local branches.

“We have good turnout when we organize protests and strikes,” she said, “because we show results and because we spend a lot of time teaching our members and supporters about their legal rights and how they have been denied.”

The childcare workers have also gained support by fighting for good public services for children and vulnerable families. “Our union demands that our members provide quality childcare,” said Stella Hoyos, a national officer and childcare provider from Popayan, “and that the government offer adequate nutrition, age-specific pedagogy, and equal treatment for all children.” These issues are given priority in the union’s political advocacy work.

Less than 4 percent of Colombia’s workers are union members, but this number has increased every year since 2012. Sintracihobi’s work provides an example for other unions in Colombia and internationally. It demonstrates how a well-organized minority can use direct action plus public opinion to win major benefits for all workers in a given sector.

Neil Martin is the executive director of PASO International. UNISON, the U.K.’s largest public sector union, supports PASO to develop communications, member education, and external organizing strategies in partnership with Sintracihobi.

300 New Members Join USO in Rubiales

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Operations at Colombia’s largest oil concession, Rubiales, changed hands in 2016 from multinational Pacific E&P to Colombia’s Ecopetrol. Since the transition oil and energy sector USO has launched an external organizing campaign with the region’s workers, resulting in some 300 new members and opening possibilities for further growth in the region.

With the support of PASO, Justice for Colombia, and international unions UNISON and Workers Uniting, USO has staffed a team composed of organizers, attorneys, and international observers to coordinate this work in the inaccessible reaches of Puerto Gaitan, Meta, a region torn by corruption, weak institutional oversight, and the resurgence of paramilitary organizations.

An analysis of labor violations in the region has revealed practices such as the application of short-term contracts through outsourcing firms, wages lower than those provided in other parts of the country, working hours that exceed legal limits with no overtime pay, a two-tier structure in which direct workers are paid more than outsourced employees, violations of requirements to provide jobs for the local population, and anti-union repression.

USO is currently engaging with cafeteria service provider Duflo, for example, in representation of workers who have sought the union’s help in fighting discontinuous shifts during which employees work on a given day from 6am-9am, 1pm-3pm, and 4pm-6pm with no pay in between these hours.

Meanwhile, an arbitration panel has ordered Pacific E&P, still one of the largest operators in the region, to re-open a collective bargaining process with USO on February 20, that has been on hold for more than a year. Read USO’s press release HERE (Spanish only).

USO is confident that the leadership it provides in these procedures, as well as working to enforce its national bargaining agreement with Ecopetrol, will continue to attract new members, even in a municipality marked by a history of intense anti-union tactics on the part of oil companies, their subsidiaries, and a vast array of industry outsourcing companies.

Community Leader Murdered in Cesar

Aldemar Parra Garcia, the president of the community organization Asociacion Apícola de El Hatillo, was shot on January 8 in the coal mining town of El Paso, northern Cesar. Contagio Radio reported that Parra was shot by hired assassins and had received death threats related to his activism in opposition to the relocation of the El Hatillo community due to the environmental impacts of local coal mining operations.

According to the article, “This area in the Cesar department has been affected for years by mining activities. Within a radius of 30 km encompassing [the neighboring towns of] La Jagua and La Loma, there are seven projects belonging to five companies. The mines that surround Boqueron, Plan Bonito, and El Hatillo include Calenturitas operated by Prodeco, Descanso Norte and Pribbenow operated by Drummond, and El Hatillo/La Francia operated by Colombian Natural Resources (CNR)” (our translation).

PASO and its international allies urge the Colombian authorities to investigate this crime, protect community and environmental activists, and provide measures to ensure the safety of human rights defenders in the region of Cesar and throughout the country.

Sintracihobi Team Recieves Death Threats

On Friday, November 18, death threats were sent to three members of the coalition working to protect the labor rights of Colombia’s public sector childcare workers represented by the union Sintracihobi.

Juan David Gomez, a staff member with Colombian Senator Alexander Lopez’ legislative team, and Daniel Marin, a union attorney at Mantilla, Marin y Alvarez, received separate text messages (images below) in which they were informed they would be dismembered if they continued working in the Bogota area. The only connection between these two professionals is their work with Sintracihobi, where they collaborate to defend labor rights and quality services in the childcare programs run by the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare.

Andres Leon, a staff member at Sintracihobi who works closely with Marin and Gomez, also received an anonymous phone call in which he was intimidated and insulted with similar language. Leon was employed by PASO from May through October, 2016.

We urge the international community to work with Colombian authorities in order to ensure the safety of these three individuals, as well as all of those working with the Sintracihobi coalition, including union officials and PASO staff, so that we can continue to peacefully defend the human rights of millions of the most vulnerable Colombian children.

For additional information please contact pasocolombia@gmail.com or (Col) 311 561 8403.

Amenaza Juan David GomezAmenaza Daniel Marin

Colombian Court to Order Back Pay for Child Care Workers

The 20,000-member union that represents service providers in Colombia’s publicly-funded childcare programs is celebrating another important victory. Last week, the press leaked information indicating that the country’s highest court will rule in favor of 106 ‘community mothers’ – women who provide childcare for up to 12 children in their own homes – who have sued for back pay for pensions and other benefits, which they had been denied prior to 2014.

It is estimated that some 80,000 of these women worked for as many as 30 years as ‘volunteers’, providing child care services for more than 1.2 million of Colombia’s most vulnerable children, and earning less than half the minimum wage. In 2013 a court ruling, followed by a month-long strike led by sector union Sintracihobi, resulted in an agreement which required government welfare agency ICBF to pay the minimum wage and social security benefits. However, in representation of the countless community mothers who were unable to accrue pensions prior to this agreement, and who continue to work into their 70’s and 80’s, often with work-related illnesses or disabilities, Sintracihobi organized a team of lawyers that has presented thousands of individual lawsuits demanding the government be held accountable for pensions that should have been recognized before 2014. The pending sentence addresses 106 of these cases and would establish momentous jurisprudence justifying the community mothers’ claims.

This comes on the heels of a major win for Sintracihobi in April, when the union struck for 14 days and signed an agreement with ICBF, winning indefinite contracts for childcare workers as of October (2016), priority status for worker-run associations as labor intermediaries, and improved nutrition for the children that benefit from program services. In fact, a bill is currently working its way through congress – also as a result of the agreement signed in April – that would double a pension subsidy currently in place for community mothers.

Regardless, a sentence with wording as leaked last week would be a milestone in the debate regarding labor intermediation in Colombia and provide a solution for the tens of thousands of elderly women who prefer to keep working rather than live in poverty. Already, the media has – once again – positioned Sintracihobi at the forefront of public opinion, fueling the union’s efforts to improve the quality of Colombia’s public services and the quality of life for its workers.

PASO Launches Report on Human Rights and the Oil Industry

Last week PASO and CCAJAR launched a report co-authored by the two organizations with the support of FIDH, which documents human rights violations at the hands of Canadian multinational Pacific E&P in the Colombian town of Puerto Gaitan, Meta.

The report describes human rights abuses, violations of labor law, environmental crimes, and irregularities with regards to indigenous peoples’ rights to prior consultation. The conclusions point to an almost complete lack of enforcement of Colombian regulations in all of the areas examined by the study, and illustrates the failures of corporate social responsibility mechanisms.

Read or download the report’s Executive Summary HERE.

Read or download the complete report in Spanish HERE.

See coverage of the issues addressed by the report in the Colombian press.

View a video of the report launch.

Press Conference: the Human and Environmental Costs of Oil Extraction in Colombia

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Project for International Accompaniment and Solidarity in Colombia (PASO), and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR),

Cordially extend a public invitation to a press conference Tuesday July 12 at 11:00 am at the Hotel Estellar Suites, Salón Arco, Calle 61 # 5-39, Bogota.

Press Release

Contact: Neil Martin; pasocolombia@gmail.com; (COL) 311 561 8403; Skype Neil.Martin25

Canadian multinational Pacific Exploration & Production Corp., operating in partnership with the Colombian company Ecopetrol and a plethora of subcontracted firms, violates labor regulations, causes environmental damage, and negatively impacts the survival of indigenous communities in Puerto Gaitan, Meta – the department in which more than half of Colombia’s oil is extracted. Furthermore, repression and criminalization targeting labor, social, and environmental leaders has increased in the region with the expansion of the oil industry. These are the findings of a report produced by FIDH, CCAJAR, and PASO which is being presented today in Bogota.

The report focuses on the Rubiales-Pirirí (hereinafter Rubiales) and Quifa oil concessions, and was prepared based on official documents, interviews with national authorities and private enterprises, and 598 surveys conducted with local residents, workers and indigenous communities. This report is being released only 11 days since operations at Rubiales, the country’s most productive oil field, transitioned from Pacific E&P to Colombian company Ecopetrol. Meanwhile Pacific E&P is currently in insolvency proceedings in Canada to avoid bankruptcy.

Today NGOs ask the following question: “Who will assume responsibility at this point and repair social and environmental liabilities incurred over the course of the past years? The situation indicates that both Colombia and Canada have failed to meet their obligations to ensure that companies respect human rights and that victims are able to obtain redress. They should act now”.

The report documents environmental damages and the repeated violation of environmental licenses, particularly in the form of contamination discharged into Rubiales Creek (Caño Rubiales) and the unexplained generation of earthquakes in the municipality of Puerto Gaitan, which seem to be tied to the re-injection of production water. According to the National Seismological Network and the Colombian Geological Service, 976 earthquakes were recorded between April 2, 2013 and June 28, 2016, as opposed to 11 from 1999 to 2013.

In this context, the rights of the Sikuani indigenous people to prior consultation has also been severely impacted by an imbalance and abuse of power between the company and communities in the absence of state control agencies. None of the prior consultation records indicate a presence of the Ombudsman’s Office or the Inspector General’s Office.

The report also describes repeated labor violations at the operations of Pacific and its subcontracted partners, and raises questions about illegal subcontracting. For example, it found that 76% of outsourced workers perform core permanent activities.

It also reveals the illegal actions of multinational and security contractors, which impede employees’ rights to free association, in particular their right to join the Union Sindical Obrera (USO) and, hand in hand with the authorities, encourage the use of the justice system to criminalize trade union, social, and environmental leaders in the region. Some 81% of the personnel surveyed felt that the company where they worked did not allow free and voluntary union membership, and 79% thought they could be fired in retaliation for joining the union USO.

The report forwards conclusions and recommendations to government entities, private companies, and the Canadian government so that human rights can be respected in communities that suffer from the effects of extraction projects.

Big Win for Colombia’s Childcare Workers

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Colombia’s childcare sector union Sintracihobi emerged victorious from a two-week nationwide strike last month, signing an agreement with government welfare agency ICBF that increases food rations for program’s children, establishes contracts through 2018, and protects public funds earmarked for childcare from being channeled into the private sector. An estimated 20,000 women went on strike from Cartagena to Cali, set up encampments outside ICBF offices, held daily marches and rallies, and – with the around-the-clock support of PASO staff – maintained a 24-hour picket at the institution’s national headquarters.

For 20 years, childcare workers known as community mothers have been administered via community-based associations run by the workers and the parents of the children under the program’s care. The Santos administration has been clear that its intention is to shift these contracts to large private foundations, which would leave workers and parents with no voice in decision making processes. In addition to this, the union has denounced corruption, inadequate funding, and opaque administration at the hands of private intermediaries leading to a crisis in which the children increasingly suffer from malnutrition. Cases of children having died as a result have been documented throughout the country. In 2016 ICBF introduced a new system to review standards and issue contracts, which left 30% of the aforementioned associations, some of them with decades of experience, out in the cold and forcing their employees into private foundations.

Sintracihobi won the hearts of the Colombian public by demanding above all protections for the children that are supposed to benefit from ICBF programs. In addition they rallied around the community-based associations’ transparent and democratic administration of public childcare funds. The agreement signed promises to increase the quality and quantity of the children’s nourishment, and to reincorporate all associations in the next round of contract designations. The press carried the union to victory in a country in which unions are traditionally portrayed as corrupt or extremist, representing a major win not only for the community mothers and the children they take care of, but also for the public image of the Colombian labor movement. The strike was also a success in organizational terms, fueling Sintracihobi’s new growth campaign, which the union is conducting with PASO’s support.

The agreement signed between Sintracihobi and ICBF is not a traditional collective bargaining agreement as defined by Colombian law. Rather the agreement is the result of an innovative strategy the union uses to go over the heads of its members’ direct employers and negotiate broader political issues directly with government agencies responsible for oversight. Although six senators and ranking representatives of the national offices of the Inspector General and Ombudsman signed on to the agreement as guarantors, enforcement will require ongoing grassroots pressure and coalition-building strategies with policy makers, parents, and other civil society groups.

The union is optimistic and continues to build on the momentum set in motion by a 24-day strike in 2013 in which the community mothers won a minimum wage, healthcare, and pension benefits for all childcare workers funded by ICBF. Most importantly, with this recent win Sintracihobi sent a clear message to Colombia’s government: childcare workers will have a voice in decisions regarding the future of their jobs and the quality of the services they proudly provide for Colombia’s most vulnerable children.

The following was posted with the permission of Sintracihobi.

Sintracihobi Logo———- SINTRACIHOBI Press Release———-

March 31, 2016

On Strike April 4th in Response to the Crisis at ICBF

Press Conference: Monday April 4 at 10:00 am at ICBF national headquarters in Ak 68 #64c-75, Bogotá

Approximately 7000 members of SINTRACIHOBI – the national union that represents public sector childcare workers – has voted to go on strike indefinitely beginning on April 4 in response to the social and humanitarian crisis that has unfolded as a result of the administrative shortcomings in early childhood development programs at the hands of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF).

This administrative improvisation is rooted in ICBF’s plans to discontinue Colombia’s traditional family welfare programs, which have been staffed by working mothers for more than 30 years. As a results of substandard and careless management, childcare services have been discontinued for thousands of working families in 2016 due to a lack of the necessary infrastructure. This has in turn resulted in the deaths of children from malnutrition or conditions of neglect. Our union has repeatedly denounced this situation to ICBF but has received no response.

To address the crisis, the National Director at ICBF Cristina Plazas Michelsen was called to a public hearing on February 18 so that she could learn about the plight of children across the country. At the hearing, childcare workers from 32 departments made serious allegations regarding the condition of child abuse at the hands of private operators that throughout the country. From every region, workers denounced the miserable rations of food ICBF provides for children in its programs. From La Guajira, community mother Nelly de la Hoz said “I am forced to make soup for 12 children with only 6 ounces of beans.” Another, from Cundinamarca, offered “when there is a child suffering from malnutrition, ICBF has us fill out a form, but does nothing to remove the child from the situation.”

Apart from this critical situation in terms of care, childcare workers are also the victims of labor persecution. They are being systematically harassed by both private operators and ICBF, and hired by means of short-term contracts that violate legal guarantees and deny workers required benefits.

This violation of labor protections was exacerbated when a new system governing the bidding process for childcare contracts was introduced in 2015. This digital platform was an ‘open invitation’ for anyone with financial muscle to manage early childhood programs. The implementation of this system pitted private operators against the historically traditional associations, which are run by childcare workers and the parents of the children in the system. The new system allows ICBF officials to pick those who win the contracts essentially at whim, and is subject to the influence of monetary interests or personal relationships, which has allowed corruption to permeate the recruitment process. This has also forced traditional childcare workers to migrate to private operators, however the elderly and sick are often not received in spite of compulsory ICBF guidelines.

Our struggle is for dignified conditions for the children that benefit from Colombia’s early childhood development programs and for our rights as working women. To this end, we have called an indefinite strike beginning on Monday, April 4, in all cities throughout the country. We will formally present our list of demands to ICBF Monday April 4th at 10 am in Bogota.

 

Information in Spanish:   Olinda Garcia, President SINTRACIHOBI, (+57) 310 259 2135

Andres Leon, Press SINTRACIHOBI, (+57) 305 727 3679

Information in English:    Neil Martin, PASO International, (+57) 311 561 8403

———–www.sintracihobi.org————