Colombia: Trade Unions

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs written question – answered on 27th March 2007.

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Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the UK Government have made to the (a) Government of Colombia and (b) International Labour Organisation on the rights of trade unions to operate in Colombia.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I met with Colombian Vice President Santos at the UN Human Rights Council in March. While I welcomed the significant progress that Colombia had made, I pointed out that civil society and trade union development in Colombia continued to present big challenges.

My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Lord Triesman of Tottenham, has met with both British and Colombian trade unionists in the UK and Colombia. This close contact was enhanced during his visit to the region in September 2006 when he met again with trade unions in order to strengthen, links, learn from shared experiences and to demonstrate the importance the UK attaches to the role of civil society in Colombia. There was detailed discussions of the role of the new International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in Bogota, Colombia. Our Embassy in Bogota also regularly communicates with Colombian trade unions.

We remain concerned that threats against trade unionists and human rights defenders remain in Colombia. However, we are encouraged by the positive steps the Government of Colombia have been taking to improve the human rights situation. For example, a new unit of specialised prosecutors has been established to deal with cases of human rights abuses involving trade unionists, with greater resources—a point specifically welcomed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in his report on Colombia, published on 15 March.

We continue to urge the Government of Colombia to meet their international obligations in regard to workers' rights. But we believe that change can be best achieved through a supportive approach; and consider the ILO's Special Technical Co-operation Programme for Colombia to be one of the most effective ways of helping to bring about real and positive improvement in workers' rights in that country. We are encouraged that the ILO has established an office in Colombia and hope that this will be a step forward in improving labour issues in the country.

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