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jueves, abril 28, 2005

Venezuelan unionists demand workplace safety

“No more deaths on the job!”

That was the rallying cry Wednesday morning as hundreds of Venezuelan workers took to the streets to demand health and safety in the workplace. Their destination: the National Assembly, Venezuela’s Congress. Their primary goal: reform of the law governing workers’ health, safety and well-being, which had been stalled for two years.

Workers from all over Venezuela had made the trip to the capital to support legal reforms and demand justice for workers who had died on the job. “We demand our rights, as established in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela, in the Organic Labor Law, in the labor regulations, and in international law,” insisted a representative.

The law in question is the Organic Law of Prevention, Working Conditions and Work Environment, (LOPCYMAT in Spanish) which is supposed to implement the constitutional right to a healthy and safe workplace, along with compensation and treatment for those injured on the job. The current law dates from 1986 and according to proponents of reform, both the law itself and its enforcement are woefully inadequate. Two years ago, said one worker, a new draft of the law was created, but the National Assembly still has not approved the changes.

The march to the Assembly started off in a plaza near the Bellas Artes metro station. With banners and chanting, the marchers took over a lane of the busy street. As the march continued to Avenida Universitara, they took over the whole street. Street vendors stopped their activities to watch, and children peered down from apartment windows.

After a brief moment of tension when the march was stopped at an intersection – during which demonstrators crowded into the center of the street and with raised fists continued to chant “No more deaths on the job” – the procession got moving again, rounded a corner, and arrived at the National Assembly.

While representatives delivered a statement to the Assembly calling for the immediate approval of the reformed law, marchers sat down on the steps of the Assembly, banners spread wide, while others stood behind. They had come from as far away as Bolívar state – whose unions had organized buses, leaving early Tuesday evening and traveling – and from the states of Anzoategui, Lara, Zulia, Carabobo, and Aragua, among others, as well as from Caracas itself. The unions present were generally affiliated with the new National Workers’ Union (UNT).

In addition to calling for passage of the new health and safety law, participants held up the memories of workers who had been killed on the job and demanded that their employers be held responsible. One of the organizing groups, the August 18th Movement, sought jail time for the allegedly culpable employers at the company Provengan, in the state of Aragua, where on August 18, 2003 nine workers were killed on the job. The movement also called for compensation for the workers’ families. Among other especially gross cases of negligence brought forward was that of steel company SIDOR, in which marchers claimed that 1,200 former workers acquired permanent musculo-skeletal injuries.

“We are here expressing to the assemblymembers who support the [revolutionary] process that they need to approve this law,” said José, a worker in the petroleum sector. The National Assembly is expected to take up discussion of LOPCYMAT on Friday. Workers at the march hoped for a speedy approval of the new reforms, and for an end to unhealthy and deadly workplaces.

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