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Steelworkers call on Liberals to refuse support for Harper’s Colombia trade deal

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United Steelworkers National Director for Canada Ken Neumann and USW District 3 Director Stephen Hunt on a solidarity mission to Mexico, August 2009 (USW photo by Scott Weaver)

United Steelworkers press release | 14 September 2009

Steelworkers Call on Liberals to Refuse Support for Harper’s Colombia Trade Deal

OTTAWA/CNW — As Parliament resumes, Ken Neumann, National Director of the United Steelworkers (USW) today called on Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal caucus to refuse to support the Harper government’s free trade agreement with Colombia when the bill is voted in Parliament next week.

"Nothing has changed since debate was suspended in May on the bill that would implement Harper’s free trade agreement with the murderous regime of Alvaro Uribe," said Neumann upon learning that Bill C-23 will be the first order of business on Monday, Sept. 14.

"If anything, the safety and security of trade unionists in Colombia has gotten worse," he said. "Since the beginning of this year 27 more murders have been carried out with impunity by paramilitaries, adding to the 2,700 who have been murdered over the last two decades.

"Our members met with opposition parties in May and introduced them to a young human rights lawyer, Yessika Hoyos Morales, whose own father was one of the trade union leaders murdered," said Neumann. The NDP and Bloc pledge support for her. "Her experience alone should be enough to move Liberals to doubt the wisdom of rewarding a regime that has not proven that it can, or even wants, to control its paramilitaries."

Neumann said the only right thing to do is to uphold a critical recommendation made by the Trade Committee, which calls for an independent, impartial and comprehensive human rights impact assessment before any consideration of free trade with Colombia.

"The parliamentary committee’s recommendation has yet to be followed, while human rights continue to decline in Colombia," Neumann said.

Several USW members met with Liberal MPs in mid-May to discuss Colombia. By the middle of that week, the government was pressured to suspend debate on C-23. Neumann said, "now is the time for Liberals to exercise both common sense and compassion and refuse support for the bill."

If the bill is allowed to pass second reading, it will then go on to the Standing Committee on International Trade, where Liberals and Conservatives have a majority.

For further information: Ken Neumann, (416) 487-1571, (416) 558-2510; Pat Van Horne, (613) 731-6315