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Colombian workers sacked by GM go on hunger strike

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10 August, 2012This long-running dispute has intensified in recent weeks. GM withdrew from a meeting with government, ILO and trade union representatives when sacked workers raised the issue of their occupational diseases.

On August 1, workers dismissed by General Motors began a hunger strike. They decided to have their lips sewn together until their just demands are heard by the company, the United States ambassador and the government. The workers, who are all members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Columbia (ASOTRECOL), have been protesting for one year against General Motor’s practice of systematically dismissing without compensation any employees whose physical health deteriorates because of occupational diseases.

Three years ago, General Motors-GM-Colmotores Chevrolet dismissed about 200 workers because they were either suffering from an occupational disease or had been victims of a workplace accident. These occupational diseases include carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by the repetition of certain movements and spinal disc herniation, caused by the continuous lifting and handling of heavy machinery.

This year the workers camped in front of the United States embassy in Bogota to push for compliance with the Labour Action Plan that forms part of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. The workers decided to go on hunger strike because neither the Colombian nor the United States governments have responded.

On August 6, thanks to political pressure from the United States Congress, representatives of the Colombian government, the ILO, General Motors, ASOTRECOL and trade union centres met to discuss the dispute. However, they resolved absolutely nothing because GM executives withdrew from the meeting when the workers raised the issue of their professional diseases, previously validated by investigations by the Attorney General’s office.

The workers are calling for national and international solidarity and demanding that the Colombian and United States governments and GM immediately resolve the dispute.

IndustriALL Global Union offers its solidarity to the workers dismissed by GM, all of whom are in poor health, and calls on its affiliates to support this struggle.

The workers on strike have told the local media that although the United States government is demanding respect for workers’ rights in Colombia under the terms of the free trade agreement, the company is continuing to violate workers’ rights in Colombia.