Flower workers reject the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia

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With regards United States President George W. Bush’s current request of the U.S. Congress in which he asks them to urgently approve the Free Trade Agreement that was signed with the Colombian government in 2006, we the Colombian flower workers would like to make clear the following to our people and to the North American Congress:

In Colombia, there are approximately 600 flower production centers that employ about 100,000 people, 65% of whom are women. Our country is the second largest flower exporter in the world and external sales in 2007 were more than 900 million dollars, almost 90% of which occurred in the United States.

Working conditions continue to get worse. Companies, including multinationals such as Dole Fresh Flowers, have intensified their work and this has forced plant operators to work to a point of exhaustion. This has lead to a proliferation of professional illness such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which creates a life-long disability for thousands of workers. Humiliation abounds. Salaries are insignificant; in general they do not rise above legal minimum wage. A contract system, temporary employment agencies and the so-called associated work cooperatives are used to avoid payment of social benefits and, in many cases, there is no formal recognition of the employee-employer relationship.

A current campaign is oriented to impede the right to union organization. Workers who try to unionize are fired and suffer other kinds of persecution. The formation of management-controlled unions is a part of this campaign against freedom of association. The Social Protection Ministry has been an accomplice in the enforcement of this policy, something that is illustrated in actions that they have taken such as:

- Systematic denial of union registration.
- Delay in responding to complaints of individual and collective labor rights violations and violations of the ILO conventions that have been adopted by Colombia.
- Failure to fulfill functions with regards to inspection and oversight of the situation in the labor sector.
- Hostility towards worker and organizational complaints.

Additionally, since 1990, the flower workers, like all Colombian workers, have suffered an acute suppression of their economic conquests. Since 1990, at least ten reforms have been approved to the labor law and to the national health care system that have lowered salaries and severely limited access to health care services and to retirement pension funds. A number of governments have sent the message that these changes are necessary in order to link Colombia with the currents of worldwide free trade.

These two decades of commercial freedom have, among other things, caused for agriculture and industry to fail. This in turn has caused a flood of unemployment and displacement of the rural population. The reduction of tariffs and privatization has lead to diminished State income, something that the government has compensated by levying onerous taxes on articles of consumption. This leads to millions of people sinking in hunger. A massive entry of capital that has forced the reevaluation of the peso has lead to the bankruptcy of export businesses—the supposed beneficiaries of free trade.

It is evident that the Free Trade Agreement will deepen the prejudices that these commercial and financial changes have brought to our country. The end result is hardships suffered by working people, which will become even more insufferable. For these reasons, we the flower workers reject the Free Trade Agreement and urge the admirable North American people to support this just cause and to urge the United States Congress to reject ratification of the agreement which is being pushed forward by their president.

Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de las Flores, Untraflores
National Union of Flower Workers, Untraflores
Aidé Silva Mateus, president

Sindicato de Trabajadores de C.I. Splendor Flowers Ltda., Sintrasplendor
C.I. Splendor Flowers Limited Workers’ Union, Sintrasplendor
Campo Elías Bautista, president

Sindicato de Trabajadores de C.I. Flores Cóndor de Colombia S.A., Sintracóndor
C.I. Flores Condo of Colombia Workers’ Union, Sintracondor
Argenis Bernal, president

Asociación Sindical de Obreros de las Flores, Asoflores
Flower Workers’ Union Association, Asoflores
Lydia López, president

Unión de Trabajadores de C.I. Flores La Fragancia Ltda., Untrafragancia
C.I.Flores La Fragrancia Limited Workers’ Union, Untrafragrancia
José Antonio Mora, president

Asociación de ex Trabajadores de C.I. Flores La Sabana S.A.
Association of Ex-employees of C.I. Flores La Sabana
Pascasio Rincón, president

Sindicato de Trabajadores de Agrícola Papagayo S.A. C.I., Sintrapapagayo
Agricola Papagayo Workers’ Union, Sintrapapagayo
Gloria Patricia Rodríguez, president