Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade union activist or even belong to a trade union.
Each year, dozens of trade union leaders are murdered or disappear, while many more face death threats, violence, judicial persecution and legal repression.
It is in this context Unifor’s Social Justice Fund supports the efforts of PASO (Protecto de Accompanamiento y Solidaridad Internacional), an international agency working with the national petroleum union of Colombia USO (Union Sindical Obrera) in Colombia’s eastern plains.
The area is home to a large and diverse indigenous population and residents have little access to education and inadequate housing. This creates a large pool of unskilled labour in need of the jobs provided by oil companies.
PASO provides protective accompaniment (visible support and witnesses to threatened activists) and advocacy, education and communications support to USO, which has been under attack as it tries to organize oil workers.
PASO engages Colombian and international authorities, and regularly works with the Canadian embassy and U.S. officials and NGOs in the area. it also accompanies USO representatives into the field to speak to workers at three large, multinational oil companies – Canadian-owned Pacific Rubiales Energy, Quifa and Cano Sur.
In 2011, Pacific Rubiales fired most of the 3,000 workers who joined USO, forcing them to leave the area under threat of violence and legal repression. USO organizers have since returned to the area, and an exiled labour leader has also been able to return.