Venezuela Removed from ILO List of Labor Union Freedom Violators

Venezuela’s Minister for Labor and Social Security, Roberto Hernández, said that the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed Venezuela from a list of 29 countries classified as violating trade union freedoms.
Newly appointed Labor Minister, Roberto Henández (VTV)

Caracas, June 19, 2008 ( – Venezuela’s Minister for Labor and Social Security, Roberto Hernández, categorized the outcome of the 97th annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland last week as “highly positive,” after the group removed Venezuela from a list of 29 countries classified as violating trade union freedoms.

Hernández said that Venezuela had been removed from the list of countries that violate trade union freedoms because the accusations made by opposition sectors over the supposed violation of workers rights along with other accusations were unsubstantiated and shown to be false.

“The balance that we can make of our participation in this conference is highly positive…After seven years of the efforts of some sectors to include Venezuela among the countries that violate union freedoms, we were excluded from this list because we demonstrated that all the indications against us were false,” Hernández declared.

The Workers' and Employers' Group of the ILO also unanimously rejected a request to cite Venezuela to appear before the Standing Orders Committee for allegedly interfering in union elections, made by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) – Venezuela’s old traditional labor federation – along with the country’s largest employer’s federation, Fedecamaras.

The CTV and Fedecamaras, both of which have a record deeply linked to Venezuelan opposition sectors, as well as with the military coup against the government of President Hugo Chávez in April 2002, have repeatedly and unsuccessfully made the same request for several years.

The National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT), a union federation that was formed in May 2003, after a two-month 2002-2003 oil industry shutdown, by union leaders unhappy with the CTV’s prioritization of anti-Chávez politics over workers’ interests, has subsequently surpassed the CTV, despite internal divisions, as the largest and most representative union federation in Venezuela.

In reference to the CTV/Federcamaras denunciation against Venezuela, for allegedly violating article 87 of the ILO charter, in relation to union elections, Hernández pointed out that the National Electoral Council has presented a new regulation pertaining to union elections that rules out any possibility of interference.

“The National Electoral Council declared a new regulation for the process of union elections, in which there is no possibility of interference by this electoral body in the process of union elections,” he stated.

“I think that with these facts, it has been clearly demonstrated to the world that Venezuela is a country where the laws and norms that have to do with unions and union elections are respected,” the minister asserted.

Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the UNT who formed part of the Venezuelan delegation to the conference said that while Venezuelan workers still suffer from the “unjust relations imposed by capital,” the complaint by Fedecamaras against Venezuela was “ironic.”

“While the employers say they supposedly defend trade union freedom, within Venezuela they violate it,” he said.

In reality, Perez Borges said, the petition by Fedecamaras and the CTV represents a “war” against the government and the Bolivarian revolution. This “bosses representation has the audacity to speak in the name of democracy when they carried out a coup d’état against a legitimately constituted government and promoted the economic destruction of the country through the sabotage of the oil industry.”

The union leader added that he believed that Hernández, only recently appointed as Labor Minister, “would be respectful of trade union freedoms, as were all the previous ministers throughout the whole period of the government of President Chavez, with the exception of the last one recently dismissed [José Ramon Rivero].”

Ex-Minister Rivero was widely criticized by workers for siding with management in numerous disputes, in particular, a long running and often bitter dispute at the SIDOR steel plant, which lead to the intervention of President Chavez who nationalized the plant on April 9 in line with workers demands and dismissed the minister only days later.

Eduardo Sánchez, also a national coordinator of the UNT and member of the Venezuelan delegation said it was “incomprehensible” that Venezuela ever formed part of the list of countries charged with violating trade union freedoms.

Sánchez recalled that under the auspices of the Bolivarian Government the number of trade unions has more than doubled in Venezuela over the past 10 years, and that trade union freedoms, such as the right to a collective contract and the right to strike, are consecrated in the Bolivarian Constitution.

He also pointed out that through a presidential decree issued on April 30 Venezuela now has the highest minimum wage in Latin America and is advancing in the struggle against the casualization and flexibilization of labor as well as the nationalization of strategic industries, in order to put them “at the service of the nation as social property, in which workers occupy a protagonistic role.”

In conclusion, Hernández said another positive aspect of the conference was that Venezuela was chosen as regular member of the Governing Body of the ILO for the period 2008-2011. “We were included this month at the 97th Meeting of the International Labor Organization as regular members of the Governing Body of this inter-governmental group,” he said.