The ILO Isn’t Satisfied with the “Blue-collar President”

In one of the most in-depth investigations in its hundred years of history, the International Labour Organization wrote a report on the systematic abuse that Venezuelan workers endure from “the blue-collar government”.

Photo: retrieved

The Polling Commission is the highest-ranking investigation body in the International Labour Organization (ILO) and it’s activated when a party is accused of committing constant and severe violations of international labor treaties.

On September 30th, the ILO published a report on Venezuela’s Polling Commission. 

In an interview with local newspaper TalCual in June, León Arismendi, director for the Institute of High Trade Union Studies (Instituto de Altos Estudios Sindicales, Inaesin), says that in 2017 a high-level mission from the ILO would visit the country from January 29th to February 1st, 2018. They had a change of heart at the last minute because Nicolás Maduro’s administration didn’t agree with the commission’s agenda. Sources linked to labor unions point out that, at the time, safety conditions weren’t guaranteed for the ILO to perform their duties as planned. “Three days later, Fedecámaras (the Venezuelan Federation of Commerce Chambers) and the trade-union Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela (Unete) stated in Geneva that Maduro violates treaties concerning union freedom, the tripartisan consultation and minimum wages.” In spite of the regime’s resistance, the Polling Commission closely followed the situation in Venezuela and sent a team from June 8th to June 12th 2019.

Since 2014 the workers’ situation has been dire, worsening with the “paquetazo” of 2018, when he casted down all the collective agreements that are supposed to be discussed every two or three years.

Since Maduro came to power, the workers’ situation has been dire, worsening with the “paquetazo” of August, 2018, when he casted down all the collective agreements that are supposed to be discussed every two or three years. The 5,900% salary adjustment, which began in September, did nothing to help the working people, because the government decided to implement a salary scale that leveled everyone in public office, knocking down the previous scales established by collective bargaining agreements.

The slogans “starving salaries”, “they stole our utilities”, “we don’t get paid our night bonus”, “they took away our transport bonus”, “we don’t have uniforms or mess halls”, are now an everyday thing among public school teachers, health care providers, foreign office workers, subway workers, Corpoelec, Cantv, and even PDVSA workers.

Some can’t even go to work because they can’t afford the public transport fare, according to Francisco Méndez, national executive secretary of the National Syndicate for Health Public Workers (Sindicato Único Nacional de Empleados Públicos del Sector Salud, Sunep-Sas). “Not only do they skip work, but they also don’t have equipment or safety protocols and they’re harassed if they complain. Maduro destroyed what we fought for so many years, a collective agreement, and he ignores contractual and salary rights”.

Since its creation, in 1919, the ILO has appointed only thirteen Polling Commissions: Portugal in 1962; Liberia in 1963; Greece in 1968, Chile in 1975; Poland in 1982; Dominican Republic in 1983; Haiti in 1983; Federal Republic of Germany in 1985; Nicaragua in 1987; Romania in 1989; Myanmar in 1996; Belarus in 2003; Zimbabwe in 2010 and; Venezuela in 2018.

Why the ILO Takes a Stand

According to Provea’s annual report, only in November and December of 2018, sixteen union members were imprisoned or accused of crimes like conspiracy, safety area trespassing, aiding and abetting, impeding work and insulting the Armed Forces. A well-known case is that of Rubén Hernández, secretary-general of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la empresa Ferrominera del Orinoco (Sintraferrominera), arrested for a second time on November 29th, 2018, presented to military courts and held in La Pica, a maximum-security prison in Monagas.

Provea says that in 2018 alone there was a record high in protests, with labor-related demonstrations being the most common (45% of documented complaints by the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social). There were 571 complaints against the Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) of threats and harassment against protesting workers from public and private companies. Six union leaders were killed, a 40% decrease when compared to the 15 registered in 2017. According to that same Provea report, since 1999, around 150 union members have been prosecuted. The situation is so dramatic that not only the unions are complaining about the breach of international conventions: employers are up in arms, too.

Provea says that in 2018 alone there was a record high in protests, with labor-related demonstrations being the most common.

Lawyer Carlos Patiño, a labor expert in Provea, explains that the novelty here is that the Polling Commission complaint was brought on by Fedecámaras and these processes are usually summoned by trade-unions.

A high-level mission visited the country in 2012, then in 2013, and then in 2017, but chavismo made sure it never sat down with actual workers. In 2018, “three researchers came, they met with the plaintiffs, wrote their report and that’s why the commission took a stand; giving suggestions to the government to follow within a year.” It also alerts in its conclusions about the constant harassment to Fedecámaras, its affiliates, and non-government related unions, leading to impunity, threats, harassment and “other attacks to civil liberties, suffered by their leaders and members.”

To date, there’s been no official statement from the regime, while the complaints add up. For instance, Héctor Villegas, a male nurse and leader for the workers of the Luis Razetti Oncological Hospital, is constantly threatened, just for defending his salary and his right to healthcare, says Mauro Zambrano, union leader of Hospitales y Clínicas de Caracas and founder of the Intersectorial de Trabajadores de Venezuela (ITV) union.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.