by Denise Roche
While John Key is pushing the cause of free trade in Colombia, he needs to raise concerns around the appalling number of trade unionists that die protecting workers’ rights there.
In 2011, according to the International Trade Union Confederation 29 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia.
Colombia is a violent society where helping to organise a union can lead to death sentence. Nearly 4000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered over the last 20 years.
Until 1990, Colombian trade unions were among the strongest in Latin America. However, as paramilitary groups formed in the mid-1980s in response to the internal civil conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Government, unionists began to be targeted.
Colombia is now by far the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. More trade unionists are killed in this country than the rest of the world combined.
Concerns about violence against trade unions have delayed United States-Colombia trade agreements. Though in October 2011, the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was signed. This move was criticised by labour leaders in both Colombia and the United States for not doing enough to assist Colombian trade unionists and workers’ rights.
When John Key is trying to advance New Zealand’s trade policy he needs to push the rights of workers in both New Zealand and the countries he is dealing with.
It is hoped he raises the appalling violence against trade unionists on his visit.