WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
20 Aug 2012 | Commentary | News

WOLA and Partners Stand with Fired Colombian Autoworkers

In Response to GM Colmotores Press Release Issued on August 2nd, 2012

August 17th, 2012
Washington, D.C. / Bogotá, Colombia
On August 1st, 2012, four members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colmotores (ASOTRECOL) began a hunger strike by sewing their lips shut. To date, there are seven fired workers who have sewn their lips closed, with more joining the ranks every week. GM Colmotores ignores their requests to: 1) recognize the occupational nature of their injuries; 2) assume the costs of medical treatment for occupational injuries; 3) pay pensions/disability payments to those unable to work due to handicaps; 4) compensate workers for economic wages and assets lost; and 5) reintegrate workers into the GM workforce or re-train them for other positions within the company.
In direct response to GM Colmotores Press Release on August 2nd, 2012, the following statement intends to inform public opinion about the supposed commitment of GM Colmotores to the health and well-being of its workers:
1. Scope of Abuses Suffered by GM Workers
13 GM workers and ex-workers currently comprise ASOTRECOL, down from 68. Their cases are emblematic of at least 200 similar instances, demonstrating GM’s systematic negligence of the workers’ health and well-being. The majority of these cases have not been investigated. GM’s position that ASOTRECOL represents a “small group” of employees ignores the breadth and scope of health impacts suffered by GM workers. Having earned no income during the entire year they’ve been on strike, without GM making their case a priority, GM’s claim that ASOTRECOL is applying “unwarranted pressure” to the company is also tenuous.
2. Misuse and Control of Medical Records
GM Colmotores has not complied with Colombian law to give resolution to the claimants’ lawsuits. Rather, GM Colmotores has presented irregularities in its participation of due process, thereby calling into question GM Colmotores claim of “comprehensive adherence” to relevant legal standards.
The Ministry of Labor sanctioned GM Colmotores for fraudulent use and control of workers’ medical documents. The Office of Inspector General demanded the remission of medical records to the Health Superintendent for review. In a later inspection that would dismiss the sanction against GM Colmotores, various irregularities were apparent, including the unauthorized rotation of inspectors from the Ministry of Social Protection, the absence of worker participation in the inspection, and the absence of the Office of Inspector General and Health Superintendent. Six months passed before the second inspection, allowing ample time for GM Colmotores to fix the abuses with which they were originally charged.
GM Colmotores has only been cleared of its present practices in regards to medical records, not past practices. Thus, GM Colmotores’ statement that a “comprehensive investigation” took place with “the relevant authorities” is false on both counts.
3. Fraudulent Processes for Termination of Sick Workers
Luis Edgar Alvarado Vásquez, Labor Inspector of Cundinamarca, was found guilty by the Ministry of Labor for violating due process by using falsified documents to authorize the termination of labor contracts. While the inspector was sanctioned, the workers whose firing he approved were not reintegrated into the company. Given the necessity of high-ranking administrators to authorize termination of employment, there has yet to be a transparent investigation to rule out the collusion of GM Colmotores management.
4. GM Colmotores Refuses to Approach ASOTRECOL Claimants in Transparent Dialogue
On August 6, 2012, GM Colmotores unilaterally left the mediation table attended by the International Labor Organization, the Office of Inspector General, the Ministry of Labor, and ASOTRECOL claimants without coming to an agreement, contradicting GM Colmotores’ statement that “the company has attended to every individual case brought forth by the demonstrators, participating proactively and transparently in various dialogues with the ex-workers and authorities.” When the Office of Inspector General confirmed the integrity of the claimants’ charges in the presence of the ILO, GM Colmotores, unable to refute the charges, withdrew from mediation table.
This case highlights the noncompliance of GM Colmotores with national law and labor provisions of the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, undermining an effective commitment of the United States in implementing the Labor Action Plan. The U.S. and Colombian governments must promote dialogue between GM Colmotores and ASOTRECOL to ensure that the indifference surrounding this case does not send a message to other employers in Colombia that the violation of fundamental labor rights will be tolerated under the Free Trade Agreement.
For further information please see:
ASOTRECOL Official Website
WOLA: GM Walks Out of Talks with Hunger Strikers
Witness for Peace Urgent Action
Photo courtesy of Witness for Peace