“It’s easier to form an armed group than a union in Colombia,” a postal worker told Canadian public sector unionists in July.
After a long organizing drive, his union only has 28 union members with a private courier company. His story was repeated by other unionists who faced mass firings and physical threats for organizing workers in multinational courier companies that benefited from the privatization of the country’s postal service ten years earlier.
Colombia is known as a dangerous place to be a trade unionist. Since 1987, 2,942 trade unionists were murdered in the country. This has driven the unionization rate down from 17 per cent to 4.9 per cent. Intimidation, disregard for union rights, privatization and an increase in precarious work contracts add to the difficulties for union survival in Colombia.
Despite the dangers, Colombian unionists continue to courageously fight for labour rights and against the privatization of public services.
“Your visits help save lives,” Yessica Hoyos from the Collective of Colombian Labour Lawyers (CCAJAR) told us.
Hoyos was one of many Colombians who spoke to a Canadian Parliamentary Committee about human rights violations in her country when Canada was negotiating a free trade agreement with Colombia. The Canadian government signed the agreement in 2011 but with a promise to conduct an annual review of human rights in Colombia.