Labor Information Agency - AIL Constitutional Court agrees with 20 workers and forces the company to reintegrate them

Date: 10/14/2021 Category: News Author: Labor Information Agency Editor [Bogota, Colombia] On July 26, the Constitutional Court, through its Eighth Review Chamber, issued judgment T-237 of 2021. In it, it agreed with 20 workers who sued GM Colmotores for considering that it had discriminated against them by firing them. The ruling obliges the company to reinstate those laid off, pay their salaries and benefits, and cancel any compensation that may be applicable.
The workers had been laid off since last year.  The company had processed a permit with the Ministry of Labor to dispense with 103 workers and. Although the Ministry said GM could not fire injured workers, the company ignored it and fired more than 50, according to estimates by the union organization at the Colmotores plant.
Labor Attor Liliana Marcela Quemba, representing the Colmotores workers and their organizations, was successful during the previous year in instituting protection actions for the right to enhanced job stability.  She won a favorable ruling, on appeal at that time from the "tutela" [a type of labor ministry] requiring the company to reintegrate 20 workers.  In the most recent case, two separate courts denied the claim of  23 workers to have their work-related illnesses taken into account and their dismissal declared inadmissible.  She took her appeal for review to the Constitutional Court.  

The Chamber of the Court exhaustively reviewed the case and concluded that, of the 23 workers, 20 were right in their claims and therefore forced the company to reinstate them.

For lawyer Quemba, ruling T-237 of 2021 of the Constitutional Court is important for all workers in the country.  "What the Court does is materialize the differential approach in massive layoffs," she says.  It means that companies, despite having permission to fire workers, will not be able to do so with those with injuries.  In order to do so, they will need to process, before the Ministry, the respective permit that allows them to dismiss sick workers.

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GM Colmotores and the attack against the workers
The history of rights violations in this multinational is long.  Since 2011 we have recorded how the company has laid off injured workers.  At that time, some of them started a protest in front of the United States embassy that today completed 10 years.

During their lengthy protest, the workers formed a union of just injured workers.  On one occasion, a federal judge ordered the arrest of the president and manager of the company for not reinstating fired workers.

In 2018, the company applied to the Ministry of Labor for permission to fire more than 100 workers.  The rumor at that time was the possible total closure of the plant in Colombia due to the reorganization that was being carried out worldwide.  But in the words of Jhon Ríos, president of Utedinal, one of the union organizations that is present in the company, GM Colmotores never had the intention of closing the plant.  This news was only intended to intimidate workers and unions into signing the voluntary agreements proposed by the company.

And so it seems, because almost 4 years after that request to the Ministry, the company continues to operate and hire new personnel.  The dismissals of 2018 remained in effect even though GM brought in new hires.  It was those dismissals the injured workers challenged.  In a majority of the cases, the judges agreed with the workers and ordered their reinstatements.

Now, about the new hires: they do not have the best guarantees, not even the same as those who already work in the company.  The down payment salary, according to the union leader Jhon Ríos, is 20% lower than that of the old ones and the extra-legal benefits were also reduced. The company used the excuse of the pandemic, but the union leader argues that the company is pursuing a policy of "precarious employment." 

On the other hand, the union leader also mentions that the union organization has achieved the reinstatement of 5 workers in the last year.  These are in addition to the 40 that have been reinstated through guardianship rulings.

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Sick workers continue their fight
Jorge Parra is the president of Asotrecol, the organiz of injured workers that was formed as a result of the abuses at GM Colmotores.  He is one of those who completed 10 years of protest at the entrance of the United States Embassy in Bogotá and is one of the defenders of the fired workers.

Parra says that throughout these years of protest he has learned that the only ones who can do something for workers and their rights are the workers themselves through their struggles.

Asotrecol's work has been important.  It's support has been a key factor in the entire reinstatement process of these 40 workers.  The organization has officiated human rights protection organizations, judges and all entities that have something to do with them to do their job.

The reintegrated workers and those who continue to protest at the entrance of the Embassy have not finished their fight.  The company continues to attack them in one way or another and they will have to continue defending themselves through the justice of this country, which is delayed, but arrives, as in this case.

Labor Information Agency - AIL
Phone: (57 4) 513-3100
Fax: (57 4) 512-2330
A.A .: 12175
Calle 51 No. 55-84
Medellín Colombia
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(Edited google translation)

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