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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;; (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


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


Colombian Constitutional Court Orders the Suspension of Pacific E&P Operations in Meta

View original FIDH Press Release here.

Translated by PASO


and member organization in Colombia

CCAJAR – Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo and
PASO – Project for International Accompainement and
Solidarity in Colombia


Press Release


On February 23, 2016 the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of exploration and extraction activities being carried out by Pacific E&P and subsidiary Meta Petroleum Corp., in joint venture with Ecopetrol, in Puerto Gaitan, Meta due to effects caused in the Sikuani indigenous territory Vencedor Piriri. The court considered that operations in the Quifa concession violate the fundamental rights of the indigenous community, specifically its right to prior consultation.

The sentence recognizes that “the constant coming and going of personnel, machinery, products and materials, the ongoing creation of odors, noise and light, and affectations to waterways… are all situations that must be considered to have direct effects on community members’ lives, beliefs, institutions, spiritual well-being and the land they occupy or in other ways use” (translation ours). Consequentially, the court concluded that consultation was mandatory and that Pacific E&P’s failure to undergo the process had been illegal.

Access to prior consultation mechanisms is a fundamental right protected by the Colombian Constitution, but domestic regulations lack clarity, detail, and fail to comply with international norms, preventing the effective protection of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.

The authors of this press release have been researching the effects of Pacific E&P’s operations in Meta since 2014. A corresponding report, to be released in coming months, will address the company’s actions and their effects on the environment, the rights of indigenous communities, and the labor conditions for employees. It will make recommendations to authorities, Pacific E&P and Ecopetrol, which has indicated its intention to assume full management of Pacific E&P’s neighboring concession, Rubiales (Colombian most productive oil field), in June, 2016.

Throughout our research, indigenous communities in Puerto Gaitan have insistently denounced the effects of other industrial processes in the region, such as Llanos Pipeline (Oleoducto de los Llanos), PEL Electric Lines (Red Electrica PEL), and operations of Hocol (a subsidiary of Ecopetrol), which have been implemented with no processes of prior consultation by authorities or private enterprises, in blatant disregard of Constitutional Court jurisprudence.

FIDH, CCAJAR, and PASO receive this decision with satisfaction, and urge that Pacific E&P and Ecopetrol take action in order to comply with the sentence, immediately suspending all activities within two kilometers of the Vencedor Piriri Indigenous Reservation. We also urge all companies to attend to any and all requests for prior consultation processes in the region, promptly, and in good faith.

Press Contacts:
FIDH : José Carlos Thissen (Spanish, French) – Tel: +51 9541 31650 (América Latina)
FIDH : Arthur Manet (Spanish, French, English) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (París)
CCAJAR : Marcela Rodríguez,;
PASO : Neil Martin, – Tel: +311 561 8403 (Bogota)

Sintracihobi: The Community Mothers’ Union

By Jeff Ordower

After 20 years of labor and community organizing I came to Bogota for a brief sabbatical, to do, well, more organizing.  I came to volunteer for PASO because I have known about the organization since it was just starting out and have been very impressed with both the concept and the work.

PASO has been able to do two things extremely well.  First, it has taken the notion of protection-oriented international accompaniment to the labor world.  Second, it has been able to raise funds for Colombian unions that can be used for organizing.

The new project, in which I am spending most of my time working, is with the union that represents home child care providers, the ‘community mothers’, SINTRACIHOBI.  Funded by government agency ICBF, these mothers work in the barrios populares (the country’s poorest neighborhoods). Approximately 70,000 women perform three different kinds of activities.  First, the traditional mothers take care of three to five year olds in their homes, eight hours a day 200 days a year.  Each mother, by herself, takes care of around a dozen kids.  Second, there are ‘FAMI’ mothers, who care for younger kids (infants to two-tear-olds), have smaller cohorts and work about half time.  Finally, substitute mothers essentially act as interim parents for kids with serious disabilities.  Colombia has one of world’s highest rates of internal displacement, rivaling Syria and Libya, and these substitutes fill the role of parents, caring for kids with emotional issues or physical challenges.  There are also an increasing number of publically funded private childcare centers, whose employees are eligible to join the union as well.

These women, through Sintracihobi, have accomplished some amazing things over the course of the past three years.  After working for almost three decades without getting a paycheck, with the help of Senator Alexander Lopez, they organized a 24-day national strike in 2013 which led, for the first time, to regular salaries and benefits.

After some huge wins, the mothers have entered 2016 ready to move forward, and there is still much to fight for.  Because they worked for 26 years with no salary, there were not issued social security payments and cannot retire, even though many would be eligible for retirement in their late 50s according to the number years they have worked.  A legal team organized by the union has filed thousands of individual lawsuits, but meanwhile many women in their 70s and 80s continue to work with serious physical issues. This hurts the quality of service that is provided for an estimated million of the country’s poorest kids.

There are also huge problems with the private for-profit operators who benefit from a patchwork of public contracts with ICBF thourghout Colombia.  Many of these operators, which are in charge of providing food for the kids, skim money off the top resulting in children getting either rotten food, or going hungry.  Mothers go into their own pockets to keep the kids fed, but in some regions kids are dying of malnutrition.  Allegations of corruption are widespread, and the National Director of ICBF recently saw her fiancé arrested several days before their wedding on corruption charges.

As a result of the mothers’ excellent work, the British union UNISON has decided to partner with PASO and Sintracihobi. Components of this three-year project include the following:

– Seminars and leader-to-leader training with community mothers and their colleagues in the childcare industry.  Thinking through agendas, making plans and really figuring out how to function like a trade union are some parts of this capacity building that we intend to help with.

-Technical support so that the union can learn to manage a website, social networks, and databases.

– Training with regards to dues deduction, so that the union has resources to continue the struggle when the project is over.

– As mentioned earlier, if the mothers decide to take direct action, PASO will provide accompaniment and monitoring, in order to prevent a violent response on the part of the police or illegal armed groups.

Because of the developing crisis in ICBF, it is likely that Sintracihobi will organize another national strike this spring.  PASO will be there, not just to provide accompaniment, but also as a partner in planning, preparations, and just doing the work, side by side, with the community mothers.

Pacific in USLEAP Newsletter

Article posted with the permission of ILRF and USLEAP. See original version in the USLEAP Fall 2015 Newsletter HERE.

By Caitrin McKee and Catherine Cain

Petroleum Company Blocks Union Vote Despite “Equitable” Certification

In Puerto Gaitan, Meta, Colombia, petroleum workers who joined the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) in June are fighting for the union’s recognition by long-time labor rights abuser Pacific Exploration and Production Corp (formerly known as Pacific Rubiales, or “Pacific”), Colombia’s fifth largest corporation.

Since then, the company’s local subsidiary has refused to engage in contract negotiations, which gave workers the legal right to vote on a strike in August. But the company prevented workers from assembling for the vote during the 20-day period allowed. The workers’ fate is now in the hands of the Colombian Ministry of Labor, but the USO is not optimistic given the Ministry’s history of favoring business interests over workers’ rights.

Pacific claims to honor workers’ freedom of association, emphasizing that over 50% of its workers belong to an organization called the Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Energética Nacional (UTEN). Indeed, the UTEN’s high membership enabled Pacific to be certified as “socially responsible” by an organization called Equitable Origins (EO) in late 2014. But it’s worth examining just how “free” workers’ association to the UTEN really is.

USLEAP sent a letter of protest to Equitable Origins in December 2014, in coordination with a formal AFL-CIO complaint citing Pacific’s well-documented history of repressing workers’ rights. In fact, the USO was forced out of Pacific’s oil fields at gunpoint in 2011, after it negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for workers. Over 3,000 USO members were fired and blacklisted, and many received death threats (a criminal complaint filed by USO against Pacific is still ongoing).

Following USO’s exile, Pacific forced workers to join the UTEN (or lose their jobs), a tactic designed to protect company interests and prevent independent union organizing. In early 2015, the USO was able to re-open an office in Puerto Gaitan with support from international accompaniment organizations like USLEAP ally, PASO International. But in July 2015, police and military officials visited USO’s regional office at midnight – in vans marked with the Pacific logo. Meanwhile, 17 direct employees who had joined the USO have left due to company threats and dismissals, and the USO estimates that Pacific’s workforce has plummeted from its 2013 peak of 14,000 to only 3,150.


Repression of Rights Defenders Continues

Community activist and former Pacific worker, Hector Sanchez Gomez, has repeatedly suffered retaliation for his continued advocacy on behalf of Pacific workers. Since 2011, Hector has been falsely accused of criminal activities in an attempt to smear and neutralize him. Even more disturbing, Hector received a call on June 1, 2015 informing him that an assassin had been paid roughly USD $3,600 to kill him. (Colombia saw 34 human rights defenders assassinated in the first six months of 2015.)

While the Ministry of Labor did push Pacific to agree to a meeting with the USO in August, the company continues to cite a lack of formal censure by the Ministry as evidence that it complies with the law. In October, the USO announced that it was filing an additional complaint with the Ministry, which is obligated to oversee an arbitration panel, and called for international solidarity with their cause. The Ministry of Labor, however, absolved Pacific of wrongdoing following past complaints, and it has since neglected to fulfill its promises to improve labor law enforcement as part of the U.S.- Colombian Free Trade Agreement signed in 2011.


Equitable Origins and the Ministry of Labor Must Act

Pacific’s union-busting clearly violates both Colombian law and the criteria of its certification by Equitable Origins. Since last year’s complaint, EO has conducted an internal review, published the company’s and auditor’s responses to its allegations, pledged stronger auditor training, and modified its standards to emphasize non-interference of employers in their workers’ union affiliation decisions. But in April 2015 it announced that a decision on de-certification would be delayed until after a verification audit could be completed over the summer.

Following an inquiry from USLEAP and PASO on September 3rd, EO stated that the audit occurred in August and promised to share results “in the coming weeks,” but it had not provided information as of early November. EO’s slow response to complaints calls into question how reliable these social certification bodies can be in upholding workers’ rights. And USO workers are not optimistic that they will prevail over the company through the arbitration panel process.

Equitable Origins must not serve as a smokescreen for Pacific’s anti-union behavior. While EO delays publicizing results of its audit, and the Ministry of Labor fails to hold Pacific accountable, Pacific continues to tout its “social responsibility” and further undermine legitimate union organizing. USLEAP will continue to follow the situation and support efforts to pressure EO and the Ministry of Labor to meet their obligations to workers.


This article exclusively reflects the point-of-view of the authors and does not reflect the opinions of PASO

Environmentalist Murdered in Casanare

Daniel Abril NM

Photo: Nadege Mazars

Daniel Abril was murdered on Friday, November 13 at 6:40 p.m. in the La Virgen sector of Trinidad, Casanare. The father of a 12-year old, Abril was a charismatic and a well-respected local environmental activist and outspoken critic of oil companies that operate in the region, large landowners responsible for forcible displacement, and State corruption.

In 2014, Abril was an active participant in a massive public hearing organized by Congressman Ivan Cepeda in Trinidad to gather testimony regarding environmental and human rights violations at the hands of private enterprises in the oil industry. He had also presented numerous official complaints regarding the negligence of Corporinoquia (the regional agency responsible for oversight of environmental regulations and licenses) and its director Martha Plazas.

Abril had been the target of ongoing persecution; human rights organization COSPACC has denounced unfounded prosecutions and previous attempts on Abril’s life at the hands of State agents.

Two months prior to his death he was involved in an incident involving the XVI Brigade of the Colombian National Armed Forces.