UNI backs ITF defence of Avianca workers’ rights

October 25, 2017

UNI Global Union has backed the ITF and its unions in their defence of Avianca workers in Colombia.

At its world executive board meeting on 10-11 October, UNI expressed concern over Avianca’s violation of the right to freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike, and its failure to comply with labour legislation, the Colombian constitution and international agreements.

UNI also asked its unions to show support for the lawful strike by members of the Colombian Association of Civil Aviation Pilots (ACDAC). It urged Avianca to resume negotiations in pursuit of a peaceful settlement, and called on President Santos to facilitate.

The pilots began strike action on 20 September, after negotiations mediated by the labour ministry ended when Avianca walked away. The ITF wrote to the Colombian labour minister, Dr Griselda Janeth Restrepo Gallego, and Hernán Rincón, Avianca CEO, urging action to resume the talks. Several ITF unions and federations also wrote to Mr Rincon.

A week later talks to end the strike were suspended because there was no agreement on wages and benefits, extending an indefinite walkout. The Colombian government ordered Avianca and the ACDAC to submit to compulsory arbitration, so on 29 September the ITF requested the ILO’s urgent intervention to prevent this move from halting the strike and leading to disciplinary actions against ACDAC members.

On 6 October, the Superior Tribunal of Bogota, which should not have acted before the strike reached 60 days, ruled the strike illegal on the grounds that airline travel was an essential public service. The union says the tribunal did not consider the company’s violations, and its lawyers immediately appealed the ruling. The ITF had reminded Colombia’s high court judges that the ILO does not consider airline pilots an essential service requiring curtailment of their right to strike.

ITF Americas regional secretary Antonio Rodríguez Fritz said: “UNI’s wholehearted support for this just fight will provide a morale boost to the pilots and their union.

“The global ITF family will keep up the pressure until Avianca suspends all violations of freedom of association and negotiates in good faith with the ACDAC.”

The ITF and its unions also backed ASSA (the Asociación Sindical de Sobrecargos de Aviación) in Mexico in its successful bid to achieve a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Aeromar. Aeromar had claimed it would lose significant investment from Synergy Aerospace – the majority owner of Avianca Holdings – if it didn’t achieve the changes it was trying to impose. Read more.

Unions claim that Avianca has never paid in full the unprecedented USD2 million that Colombia’s Constitutional Court in June 2015 ordered it to pay to workers whom it cheated of pay and benefits in a long-term plan to prevent staff joining trade unions. Read more.

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