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sábado, enero 28, 2006

Kick VZ out of the ILO? Not likely

So, the ILO “direct contacts” mission arrived in Venezuela last Sunday and has been meeting with representatives of the CTV, the UNT, Fedecámeras, other unions and organizations, and various governmental bodies. The delegation’s three members were Cleopatra Dumbia-Henry, director of the ILO Department of International Labor Standards; Daniel Martinez, director of the ILO’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Beatriz Vacotto from the ILO’s International Training Centre in Italy.

The ILO representatives apparently kept a low public profile and focused on the need to restore “dialogue” in the country. Said Dumbia-Henry, “The most intense challenge is the social dialogue, is reestablishing trust . . . We would like to explore opportunities to improve social dialogue, specifically between the government, the CTV and Fedecámeras.” [my translations] According to government press, she also “expressed her interest in an eventual reform of the Organic Labor Law.”

The president of national employers’ organization Fedecámeras, José Luis Betancourt, made a statement to the press about the ILO visit, but didn’t say anything substantive. I suspect that Fedecámeras is trying to play nice with the Chávez administration now, domestically at least. Betancourt also announced that ILO secretary-general Antonio Peñaloza Hill visit Venezuela next week – why, I’m not sure.

The delegation will remain in Venezuela through tomorrow. Their investigative report will go to various ILO committees, and based on that report the ILO’s governing body will once again discuss the complaints filed and information gathered concerning trade union freedoms in Venezuela. Don’t expect any dramatic pronouncements.

Froilan Barrios is expecting some though, or at least hoping the ILO will give him some ammunition to use against Chávez. Barrios, the executive secretary of the anti-Chávista union confederation CTV, mentioned several issues that the CTV believes the mission should address, including the government’s relationships with unions, the petroleum workers fired in the wake of the oil stoppage, and the relationship of the National Electoral Council with unions and union elections, which Barrios criticized as “direct interference” in union affairs. He even managed to bring in the World Social Forum, arguing that the ILO’s visit at the same time as Venezuela is hosting the WSF is evidence of Chavez’s hypocrisy. “On the one hand they talk about solidarity and support for the working class, but in practice they violate their rights,” he claimed.

Barrios also criticized the government for failing to include unions in decisions to raise the minimum wage and for its delays in negotiating public union contracts, and brought up the subject of former CTV leader Carlos Ortega’s prison sentence. Ortega himself sent the ILO a letter concerning his sentence. No word on whether he got a response.

All these are familiar complaints from the CTV. But Barrios tried to inject some new urgency by warning that the ILO could penalize the Chavez government for its alleged noncompliance with international labor norms, and might even go so far as to kick Venezuela out of the organization.

Francisco Torrealba of the UNT, though, dismissed the possibility of an ILO sanction or condemnation of Venezuela, much less expulsion from the international body. Considering that the ILO includes member states like Burma (Myanmar) where forced labor is common and the government has been making threats against the ILO liaison -- not to mention Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia, which continues to assassinate trade unionists – throwing Venezuela out seems unlikely indeed.

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