I am a member of the University and College Union. The University and College Union (UCU) represents 120,000 teachers, researchers and academic-related staff in universities and colleges throughout the United Kingdom. As an academic union, we have long been deeply concerned about the victimisation and killing of trade unionists and teachers in Colombia, which is generally recognised as 'the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade unionist.'
The British, European and international trade union community has worked for many years to end the culture of impunity which protects the perpetrators of these crimes and what appears to be the complicity of the Uribe government in the violent suppression of legitimate trade union activity. This suppression is actively inhibiting any move to a normalisation of living and working conditions for the majority of Colombia's population.
In this context, we share the concerns recently expressed by the Trade Union Congress and Justice for Colombia at the renewal of preferential trading status to Colombia by the European Union from January 2009 under the GSP+ system, introduced in 2005. We note that the new system provides additional benefits for countries that qualify, but, crucially, requires them to ratify and 'effectively implement' a series of core international conventions on human and labour rights.
Colombia has ratified these conventions but has patently failed to implement them effectively - indeed it is in flagrant breach of them.
GSP+ status is coming up for review later this year and we join other trade union bodies in urging that the Commission starts an investigation into Colombia before it is awarded the trade preference again in January 2009.
We welcome the “Written Declaration” which Richard Howitt MEP has put down in the European Parliament: (see www.justiceforcolombia.org/downloads/written_declaration_90.pdf for the text), and would ask that an investigation is carried out as a matter of urgency, and its findings made public.
UCU has written to Baroness Ashton, the European Trade Commissioner regarding this issue and would welcome any action you are able to take as a Member of the European Parliament to ensure that this issue is thoroughly investigated and that the Colombian bid for preferential treatment under GSP+ is assessed according to the criteria applicable to the scheme. We are clear that it falls a long way short of the required standards and this should be made clear to the Colombian government.
At TUC Congress this year, UCU’s delegation met Tarsicio Mora, the president of the largest trade union confederation in Colombia, the CUT and he impressed on them the severe restrictions, repression and not to say terror suffered by our fellow trade unionists there. We would urge you to do all you can to support them and to insist that the Colombian government demonstrates a genuine commitment to respect core labour standards as laid down by the ILO before GSP+ status is renewed.