WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
8 Aug 2012

GM Walks Out of Talks with Hunger Strikers in Colombia

Four months after President Barack Obama announced “mission accomplished” on the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan that facilitated the implementation of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, General Motors’ management representatives walked out on negotiations with a group of fired GM employees with work-related injuries. GM’s move suggests that the mission is not yet accomplished, and that much more needs to be done to protect the rights of workers in Colombia.

For the past year, members of ASOTRECOL, the Association of Injured and Ex-Workers of GM Colmotores de Colombia, have peacefully protested GM’s practice of systematically firing workers without compensation after they have incurred debilitating occupational injuries. These injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome due to repetitive motions and herniated disks from lifting and operating heavy machinery during their time of service at GM. Seven days ago, ASOTRECOL began a hunger strike with several protestors sewing their lips together when their one year peaceful protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia yielded lots of promises from the U.S. and no results.

On August 6, thanks to political pressure from the U.S. Congress and civil society groups and a subsequent intervention by Ambassador McKinley, representatives of the Colombian Ministry of Labor, International Labor Organization (ILO), and GM Colombia met with the workers. As the workers presented their concerns, which were supported by the Inspector General’s investigations, GM representatives walked out of the meeting without resolving any of the workers’ concerns.

The United States and Colombia have committed themselves to improving the labor rights situation confronting Colombia’s workers by reducing trade union violence and impunity for aggression against labor leaders while also improving labor standards and working conditions. It is unacceptable that a subsidiary of a U.S. company behave so cruelly towards sick workers whose lives have been devastated due to injuries acquired on the job. The U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Congress and Ambassador Michael McKinley must take bolder steps to ensure that GM addresses these workers’ petitions for compensation, medical benefits and retraining or reintegration into GM. GM Chief Executive Officer Daniel Akerson must act immediately to resolve this situation, which is emblematic of the mistreatment of Colombia’s workers.

If the United States and Colombia are unable to adequately resolve this situation in favor of a small group of workers, what does this say about the Obama and Santos administrations’ ability to guarantee the commitments made to the workers of Colombia once the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is fully put into practice?

For further information, please see:

“Black and Blue, Injured GM Workers in Colombia Protest Labor Injustice,” Latin America Working Group

“Take Action: GM Workers in Colombia on Hunger Strike,” Witness for Peace

“Los Trabajadores de GM Colombia Necesitan Solidaridad Urgente,” SINALTRAINAL

“Labor Action Plan: Just Paper or Real Changes?,” Washington Office on Latin America