WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
31 Jan 2012 | News

Take Action to Protect Unjustly Fired Workers in Colombia

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) urges you to take action in solidarity with the trade unionists engaged in a hunger strike in Cali. In 2004, 51 members of the SINTRAEMCALI union were unjustly fired for their labor organizing activities. On three separate occasions, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has recommended that Colombia re-hire these workers because they were unjustly fired for belonging to a union (ILO Case 2356). On October 12, 2011, a Colombian court ordered EMCALI to rehire the 51 fired union members (Ruling 061). 

On December 5, 2011, five of the 51 fired workers initiated a hunger strike in Plaza Caicedo in Cali in order to urge the Colombian government to comply with this ruling. Two of the workers participating in the hunger strike were hospitalized on January 2, and the three other workers remain in the plaza despite deteriorating health conditions. On January 26, the Colombian court in charge of the case ordered the arrest of Mr. Sabas Ramiro Tafur Reyes, Director General of EMCALI, for not re-hiring the workers as indicated in Ruling 061. Mr. Tafur continues to blatantly reject the court decision and ILO recommendations, despite the arrest order. 

In April 2011, Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Barack Obama signed the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan (LAP) in order to facilitate the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The purpose of the LAP is to improve Colombia’s disastrous labor rights situation. As part of the LAP, both countries agreed to work closely with the ILO to protect labor rights. Nine months after the Labor Action Plan was signed, the Colombian government has not implemented the ILO’s recommendations in the SINTRAEMCALI case.

Violence, threats, and stigmatization against SINTRAEMCALI continues unabated. In the last ten years, 8 members of SINTRAEMCALI have been murdered, 15 have been forced into exile, and more that 100 have been threatened. SINTRAEMCALI’s current president, Mr. Jorge Ivan Velez, has received at least four death threats in the last month alone. Other members of the union continue to receive death threats as well. Members of SINTRAEMCALI, labor rights activists, and human rights defenders were also targeted in 2004 in a detailed assassination plot and smear campaign known as “Operation Dragon.” Operation Dragon was developed by retired members of the military, private contractors, and hired assassins. The Attorney General’s Office discovered that the perpetrators intended to murder several members of SINTRAEMCALI, Senator Alexander Lopez Maya, and Berenice Celeyta of NOMADESC. The intellectual authors of Operation Dragon also attempted to falsely link members of SINTRAEMCALI to guerrilla groups as part of a defamation campaign.

We ask that you support the hunger strikers and SINTRAEMCALI by contacting the following U.S. and Colombian authorities. Urge them to act immediately and rehire the 51 workers that were fired unjustly, as indicated by Colombia’s judicial system and international recommendations.

The government should also guarantee effective protection measures for all members of SINTRAEMCALI.


Department of State

U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia

U.S. Trade Representative

Government of Colombia:

Office of President Juan Manuel Santos

Office of Vice President Garzon

Ministry of Labor

We also ask that you send Mr. Tafur a message stating that persons in the U.S. will not tolerate such blatant disregard for workers’ rights by emailing him at ramirotafur@yahoo.com

Please copy your email messages and send responses to Anthony Dest, adest@wola.org