ILO praises Colombia, attacks Venezuela

The International Labor Organization (ILO) denounced the Venezuelan government on Thursday, accusing it of abusing the rights of business owners to freely organise. At the same time, Colombia was praised for its progress in the protection of labour leaders. Venezuelan authorities rejected the statements, accusing the ILO of manipulating the truth for political reasons.

In a report released on Wednesday, the UN labour agency called on the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez to ensure that business groups can operate "free from violence, pressure, or threats of any kind against leaders and members". The Venezuelan government was also urged to stop legal proceedings against senior officials of Fedecamaras, Venezuela's major business chamber.

Government officials, however, accuse Fedecamaras of being behind the short-lived coup that took place in 2002, and briefly toppled the elected Chavez government. During the coup, the head of Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmona, was installed as president. The Chavez government also condemned Fedecamaras's recent call to oppose the proposed constitutional reforms to be put to a referendum on December 2 — which include a range of pro-worker measures such as lowering the working week from 44-36 hours with no loss in pay and guaranteeing access to social security to millions of "informal" workers for the first time.

The ILO denounced the treatment of business-owners' organisations, claiming that there is a climate of fear, intimidation, and violence on the part of the Venezuelan government and cited an incident last March when the exterior of Fedecamaras's offices were vandalised. They also lamented the fact that the Chavez government has turned down their offers to provide technical assistance in resolving the issues.

At the same time, Colombia, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for labour leaders, was praised in the report. The ILO pointed to the decrease in the murders of labour leaders over the last 5 years.

Venezuelan authorities rejected the ILO statements, saying that they distorted the reality of the situation and accused the organisation of responding to certain interests and of "defending neoliberal policies".

"The report has a totally political posture that doesn't have anything to do with the reality of business-owners in the country, and much less the economic development that is ending its fourth year of sustained growth", said Venezuelan labour minister Jose Rivero said. "This is due to the fact that they see the Venezuelan political process as one that goes against their very particular interests, that doesn't represent the interests of Venezuelan business owners."

Rivero announced that the Venezuelan government would be presenting a formal complaint before the ILO and said that many claims in the report have already been debunked by the government and will be presented at the next ILO meeting in June 2008.

"In the last few years we have been debunking each and every one of the false claims that they have made in relation to the labour union activity", Rivero said.

"This is all about putting Venezuela before the world as a country where there are persecutions and repression of the civil rights of labour unions", he said. "In Venezuela there is more democratic labour freedom than ever before."

[Abridged from]