Threats, persecution and harassment - that is what both trade unions and employers in Venezuela are facing as soon as they want to pursue their own independent course. The situation is so serious that the International Labour Organization (ILO) has established a Commission of Inquiry. In the ILO's 100-year history, this has happened only thirteen times before.
Leida León and José Rivera of the Venezuelan trade union Central of Workers ASI have been in Europe for the presentation of the Commission's report. On November 7 and 8 they came to The Hague and Brussels to call the attention of public opinion on the plight of unions in Venezuela.
'For the Netherlands, Venezuela is in fact a neighbouring country, so it is important that we support them,' emphasises Arend van Wijngaarden, president of CNV Internationaal. 'The problems in Venezuela are pushing more and more people into hardship. As a result, Curacao too is being flooded with refugees.'
Conclusions and recommendations of the ILO
In its report, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that trade unions and employers are prevented from working by intimidation, threats and persecution as soon as they wish to pursue an independent course of action. Based on the results of its investigation, the ILO Commission has formulated a series of recommendations that Venezuela must implement before 1 September 2020.
ILO recommends immediate recognition of ASI as a trade union
The Venezuelan government has up to 27 December to give its reaction. In March 2020 the Governing Body (general assembly) of the ILO will pronounce itself on this issue.
Recommendations that should be made effective immediately include the recognition of ASI as a trade union confederation by the Venezuelan government, and an end to the persecution of trade unionists so that exiled leaders can return to the country.
Accompany the unions in starting up social dialogue
The ILO also recommends setting up round table meetings for workers and employers in order to start up social dialogue. 'CNV Internationaal supports the recommendations adopted by the ILO.
In addition to applauding the adoption of these recommendations, we support the ASI's call to organise an ILO mission to Venezuela, in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), to accompany the unions in setting up social dialogue,' underlines Arend van Wijngaarden.
Lives of independent union leaders are in danger
The Independent Trade Union Alliance (ASI) is the second union in Venezuela and has more than 400,000 members. This democratic and independent trade union is struggling. The official, socialist, trade union has the support of President Maduro and is in charge.
There is no place for an independent alternative union. Independent union leaders are being prosecuted, threatened and sometimes even imprisoned, say trade union leaders Leida Marcela León Molina and José Vicente Rivero González. Their lives are in danger in Venezuela.
Between 2015 and 2017, 17 union leaders were killed. The chairman of ASI was so seriously threatened by government-affiliated groups that in 2018 he was forced to give up his union work. He fled his country and sought asylum in Canada. The vice-chairman has applied for asylum in Spain.
Venezuelan trade union leaders Leida Marcela León Molina and José Vicente Rivero González meet with members of Dutch parliament, among others Mr. Bouali (D66)
Complaints of employers' organisations as well
The trade union leaders are not alone. The employers' organisations in Venezuela have also filed a complaint with the ILO. Violations of labour and human rights make social dialogue at company level impossible.
The Venezuelan government is being accused of violating the internationally recognised right to freedom of association and the right to social dialogue (ILO conventions 87 and 98). This has led to an investigation by the ILO.
Not just another report
The ASI union leaders were in Geneva when, on Wednesday 6 November, the ILO Governing Body (the organisation's executive board) discussed the report of the Commission of Inquiry. 'It is very important that everyone knows what is happening in Venezuela,' they emphasise.
'This is not just another report. Such a Commission of Inquiry has only been appointed 13 times in the ILO's 100-year history. That says a lot about the seriousness of the case.' They fully support the report and hope that the recommendations will be adopted, in order to put pressure on the Venezuelan regime.
Independent trade unions are needed more than ever
In the Netherlands, the ASI union leaders spoke with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, various civil society organisations and members of the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament about possible next steps.
'For most workers in Venezuela, it is currently incredibly difficult to sustain themselves,' says Van Wijngaarden. 'Now more than ever, independent trade unions are needed in the country.' As CNV Internationaal, we draw the attention of the Dutch and international public to the struggle of these Venezuelan workers and their independent trade union movement.'
The Netherlands is a neighbouring country
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a direct neighbour of Venezuela. More than 4 million Venezuelans have already fled the economic crisis and repression in their country. More than 1.8 million of them have taken refuge in neighbouring Colombia, which in addition already has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced persons in the world, due to the armed conflict with the FARC guerrilla organisation.
Many refugees have also ended up on Curacao: more than 26,000 - which is around 20% of the total population.
Women and girls in particular are at risk
The position of Venezuelan refugees is vulnerable. Women and girls in particular are at risk of becoming victims of prostitution and human trafficking.
CNV Internationaal supports the integration of Venezuelan refugees in into the labour market in Colombia, so that they can earn a living and are less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the tripartite labour organisation of the United Nations, in which employers' and workers' organisations and governments collaborate to reach global agreements on decent work.
Report of the ILO commission: Por la reconciliación nacional y la justicia social en Venezuela
Publication date 11 11 2019