102nd Session of the International Labour Conference

Americas: Challenges and opportunities for unions

At the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference, Victor Baez, General Secretary of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-CSA) - an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), replies to ACTRAV Info. In this interview, Mr Baez gave his views on workers’ rights and priorities in the Americas, the gender issue and reform process of trade unions in this region.

News | 12 June 2013
Ms Eulogia Familia from the Dominican Republic has been elected Worker Vice-President of the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference. What does this election represent for workers in your region?

First of all, the recognition of a worker, a woman, since we take the parity of gender very seriously in our region, understanding that gender is the instrument but feminism is the policy. When we read history, we always read history from the point of view of men. For instance, in 1848 we know that there was the manifesto - the Communist manifesto - but most of us ignore that there was another manifesto, the manifesto of Seneca Falls, which was the first one stating that women had the right to participate in politics. TUCA-CSA was the first regional organization that put a minimum of 40 per cent of required women’s participation in the governing bodies of our institution.

The reform process of trade unions started a few years ago in your region. What has this reform brought about in your region so far?

In many regions of the world, the main problem of unions is that they are weak and fragmented. Under that condition, it is very difficult to make a worldwide struggle for another kind of hegemony. Our motto now is to have fewer unions but with more and more women and men as members to empower the unions from within. In the past, in many countries, there were many unions that did not have any dialogue with one another. Now, in almost every country, unions are coordinating and confronting models that are not favourable to workers. On the other hand it is about the inclusion of more women and more youth, at the same time it is a matter of communication because of mass media, which is in the hands of multinationals. We have to target the workers so that they know what we, as unions want, and take into account what we propose to them as unions. So it also means the fight for the democratization of communications in each country, and the establishment of a communications policy in the unions. 

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association receives many cases from unions on labour standards issues, particularly from Latin America. Could you tell us, what are the main violations of workers’ rights in your region?

The issue that more claims come from Latin America does not particularly mean that more violations are only happening in Latin America. It means that we, in Latin America, are reacting to those violations but the main cases of violations are the lack of freedom of association and the lack of respect for collective bargaining. In countries like Colombia and Guatemala union leaders or union activists are being killed, and so we live in a very serious situation. On the other hand, most national legislations in Latin America do not respect what is established in the ILO Convention No. 87 which states that workers have the right to collective bargaining. In many countries there is a set minimum, for instance, in Paraguay the minimum requirement is that of 20 workers in order to set up a union. The problem is that most small enterprises employ less than 20 workers; in other countries the minimum is 25 workers, while others require 35 worker members. So we have to struggle in order to change that legislation and to achieve real freedom of association.

Finally, what are the workers’ priorities in the Americas?

The respect of workers’ rights is not just related to the existence of a labour code of ILO Conventions. It is important to have labour laws - good labour laws and good ILO Conventions -but there is also a model of development that will allow labour rights and rights of the workers to be respected.

A new liberal model will never respect the rights of workers, and that of the human beings; it just respects and advocates for the rights of the rich people. We want a sustainable development with workers’ rights in the centre that is the priority of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA-CSA). We are now elaborating a platform of development for the Americas, as well as a fiscal platform because Latin America is the most unequal continent in the world. Big enterprises and rich people must pay taxes in Latin America. This is the only way for a better distribution of wealth in order to overcome poverty.