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Employers Associations and Trade Unions in Colombia

1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organizations

Colombian employees are entitled to unionize and/or create unions. Unions can organize federations and confederations according to the rules of Colombian Labor Code, Article 417, which establishes that all unions have the right to unite with or join local, regional, national, trade or industrial federations, and the latter to join confederations. Federations and confederations have the same rights of the union except of decelerating strikes.

2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

According to Article 39 of National Constitution and Article 353 of Colombian Labor Code, unions have the constitutional right of association, by which the employees can associate freely in defense of their interest, by forming professional associations or unions.

Following the rules of Colombian Labor Code, employees can agree either to a collective bargaining agreement or a collective agreement that contains better benefits for unionized employees.

Nevertheless, if the parties do not enter an agreement, the Colombian Labor Code authorizes the employees to use their right of strike, which is defined as the temporary collective and peaceful work stoppage of the employees of a (private) company.

3. Types of Representation

Article 356 of the Colombian Labor Code establishes that the unions are classified into four (4) types as follows:

1. Company Union This union is composed of individuals of different professions, trades or skills, who render their services in the same company, establishment or institution.
2. Industry Unions This union is composed of individuals who work for different companies engaged in the same branch of industrial activity.
3. Trade Unions This union is composed of individuals of the same profession, trade or skill.
4. Miscellaneous activities union This union is composed of employees of different professions, which are dissimilar or unconnected. This union can only be formed where there are not employees engaged in the same activity, profession or trade in the minimum number required for a trade union, and only while this situation exists.

4. Number of Representatives

According to Article 359 of Colombian Labor Code, a labor union needs at least twenty five (25) members to be organized and to subsist as such; and an association of employers must have at least five (5) members who must be independent of each other.

5. Appointment of Representatives

In accordance to Article 391 of the Colombian Labor Code, the election of the board directors (representatives of the unionized employees) is by secret vote of the unionized employees. Usually the board of directors is composed by ten (10) members, five (5) principals and five (5) alternatives. All ten (10) members are covered by a special protection and in this regard they cannot be terminated, transferred or diminished in their employment conditions without prior authorization by the labor judge.

6. Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

In general terms, the tasks and obligations of the representatives bodies are: i) Present to the employer petitions in order to make better the labor rights of the employees; ii) Negotiate during the collective negotiation process; iii) Audit to the employer in the compliance of the collective bargaining agreement; iv) Audit the compliance of the employer regarding the salaries, fringe benefits, working hours, vacations and any other mandatory labor right; v) Advise and assist any unionized employee in a disciplinary process. Article 376 of the Colombian Labor Code establishes some additional specific attributions to the Assembly.

7. Employees’ Representation in Management

Is not mandatory, unless it is established in the collective bargaining agreement.

8. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

Committee of Safety and Health at Work (COPASST)

Resolution 2013 of 1986 establishes the obligation for any employer in Colombia to have a Committee of Safety and Health at Work (COPASST) when it has 10 or more permanent employees, or an Inspector of Safety and Health at Work Inspector, when it has less than 10 employees. The health and safety at work committee must meet monthly and within 5 days after the occurrence of any labor accident.

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