1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
The possibility for employers and employees to associate through trade unions and employers’ associations is guaranteed as a constitutional right. Employers’ organizations are not very common, nor are they generally used for collective bargaining, but rather for economical and coordination purposes within an industry. Collective bargaining is reserved for employers (individually considered) and trade unions.
There are three types of trade unions: (i) Company union, which gathers employees of the same company, regardless of their profession or position; (ii) Industry union, which gathers employees of the same economical sector disregarding their profession, position or employer; (iii) Gremial union, which gathers employees of the same profession regardless of their position or employer. For any of these types of trade unions to exist, a minimum number of 25 affiliates is required.
Employees can affiliate to multiple trade unions, even within the same Company. The collective bargaining process must be done with every trade union within the organization, disregarding their number of affiliates. Nowadays, and as a result of the Constitutional Court’s case law, there are no specific rules regarding representativeness for trade unions for the collective bargaining process, or any other matter on claims or conversations with the employer.
2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
While it is not mandatory to be a member or constitute a trade union in Colombia, trade unions may negotiate, on behalf of their affiliates, to begin a collective bargaining. This process can only be initiated by the trade union; employers cannot call for a collective bargaining process.
The result of this negotiation between trade union and an employer is a collective bargaining agreement. These documents generally provide for special rules and benefits applicable for the unionized members, and if the trade union reunites the required majority (this may variate depending on the trade union representation within the Company) of affiliates within the organization, the collective bargaining agreement can be applicable to all employees, disregarding if they are affiliated or not.
Trade union members may enjoy special protection in specific cases (i.e. during the collective bargaining process) and special permits for union purposes. This is important, because Colombia’s labor law does not provide for any law regarding employees’ participation in employer’s decisions, other than through trade unions, and therefore these organizations serve as the main body for this purpose.
The right to strike is recognized as a constitutional right and its exercise must be made in accordance with democratic principles. Limitations on the right to strike apply to essential public services, as defined by law (i.e. public utilities sector).
3. Types of Representation
Colombian labor law does not establish any law regarding the participation of the employees as representatives other than the role that trade unions serve for their members. While some improvement has been made in the last decade to involve employees’ participation, these are meant for certain cases such as harassment in the workplace and health and safety committees, and are not intended to apply to specific roles of communication regarding general decisions that the employer is considering.
4. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
The 1295 Decree of 1994 established the obligation for every employer to constitute a health and safety committee, wherein the number of members varies according to the number of employees of the Company. Its composition is by an equal number of employer’s representatives and employees’ representatives.
The 1010 Act of 2006 established a mandatory harassment committee to address possible conducts considered as such, and to develop activities to improve the working environment for all employees. The number of members of this body varies according to the number of employees of the Company. Its composition is by an equal number of employer’s representatives and employees’ representatives.