The ITUC affiliates in Venezuela are the Alianza Sindical Independiente (ASI) and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV).
Freedom of association / Right to organise
The law prohibits anti-union discrimination.
Restrictions on trade unions' right to organise their administration:
- Restrictions on the right to elect representatives and self-administer in full freedom
- The Constitution requires union constitutions to make their leaders' mandates non-renewable and subject to a universal, direct and secret ballot. (Constitution, Art. 95) The new labour law imposes proportional representation and a uninominal voting system for union leadership elections (Art.403 of the LOTT). It also upholds the principle whereby in the event of electoral default (including in the case of appeals to the National Electoral Council – CNE) trade union organisations may not engage in collective bargaining. It also stipulates that to be eligible leaders must have convened trade union elections within the time limit when they were leaders of another organisation (Art.387 of the LOTT) and imposes a referendum to revoke their trade union office (Art.410 of the LOTT).
- Other external interference allowed by law
- (1) The Constitution provides that until such time as new laws are passed, trade union elections shall be announced, organised, directed and supervised by the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE). The ILO has signalled the need for the CNE, which is not a judicial body, to cease interfering in trade union elections and to no longer be empowered to annul them. It has also stressed the need for the rules governing the election of executive bodies of national trade union organisations, which accords a preponderant role to the CNE in the various stages of such elections, to be amended or repealed. (2) The new law places more restrictions on the role of the CNE than previously. However it still states that trade union leadership bodies may request its logistical support to organise elections (Art.405 of the LOTT) and the CNE shall continue to receive any appeals that affiliates might present. Furthermore, the new law obliges trade union organisations to submit a full list of members’ names to the authorities, and to provide the competent officials with any information requested in line with legal obligations (Art.388 of the LOTT).
Categories of workers prohibited or limited from forming or joining a union, or from holding a union office:
- Armed forces
Right to collective bargaining
Restrictions on the principle of free and voluntary bargaining:
- Compulsory conciliation and / or binding arbitration procedure in the event of disputes during collective bargaining, other than in essential services
- The new law sets forward that, in the case of collective bargaining by industry, if the conciliation is not possible, the labour officer at the request of the parties or of its own motion, can refer the dispute to arbitration, unless the trade unions express their intention to exercise their right to strike. (LOTT, article 465)
- Authorities' power to intervene in the preparation of collective agreements
- The new law stipulates that a proposal for collective bargaining should be done in the presence of a state official, who shall chair the meetings (Art.449 of the LOTT).
Restrictions on the scope of application and legal effectiveness of concluded collective agreements:
- Authorities' approval of freely concluded collective agreements
- The new Law provides that the Labour Inspector shall check that collective agreements are in line with the public standards governing such agreements, to ensure conformity (Art.450 of the LOTT). If the Inspector deems it appropriate, they may make observations and recommendations, to be implemented within 15 working days. (Art.451 of the LOTT).
Limitations or ban on collective bargaining in certain sectors:
- Armed forces
Right to strike
Undermining of the recourse to strike actions or their effectiveness:
- Excessive civil or penal sanctions for workers and unions involved in non-authorised strike actions
- The Penal Code penalises and undermines, through the application of penalties, the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and the right to strike and block a company's production, both of which are frequently used to support workers' demands.
Limitations or ban on strikes in certain sectors:
- Discretionary determination or excessively long list of "essential services" in which the right to strike is prohibited or severely restricted
- In the event of a strike, the Minister of Labour decides which areas or activities may not be stopped during the strike because of the effect on the production of essential goods and services (Art.484 of the LOTT).
In June 2013, workers at the state iron ore company Ferrominera del Orinoco, in the state of Bolívar, staged a strike for over 10 days to demand the payment of the monies owed to employees and the reinstatement of workers dismissed. The national government responded to the workers’ action by sending the military to occupy the site. The protesters condemned the government’s action, which they labelled as a move to criminalise the constitutional right to strike. Following pressure from the workers, the government ordered that the troops be withdrawn and that dialogue and negotiations be initiated to resolve the dispute, which was settled following a number of agreements between the authorities and the trade union leaders.
According to the UNETE trade union, murders of trade union members and leaders continued to occur in 2012 and 2013. In September 2012, a human rights organisation recorded 65 murders of trade unionists (Report by the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social).
In October 2013, the UNETE trade union denounced the harassment of trade union leaders by the Polar Group and its subcontractors. The company brought actions before state bodies requesting dismissals, criminal prosecutions and the filing of police complaints.
In October 2013, the UNETE trade union denounced that the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Labour Ministry were continuing their practice of interfering in trade union organisations, particularly in their election processes and through the practice by the Ministry and public services bodies of refusing to deal with organisations whose leaders they deemed elected due to electoral default. Although CNE intervention in elections is now optional according to the regulations, it remains a significant obstacle to collective bargaining.
The dispute procedure had to be initiated at the EFE manufacturing company because of the delay in negotiating a new collective agreement and following an almost three-week long strike. In October 2013, the union expressed concern that the arbitration process seemed to be moving towards a deterioration in the labour conditions.
In the case of the chemical-pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical laboratories and companies SM Pharma C.A. and SM Esamar C.A. have breached their obligation to pay the benefits established in the three most recent collective bargaining agreements: 2005-2007, 2008-2010 and 2010-2012.
In October 2013, the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de Venezuela (UNETE) denounced that the government is breaching the agreements in force. This is the case with in excess of 80% of the clauses of the collective bargaining agreement with Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), including the payment of social benefits.
On 30 July 2013, leaders of the unions at the state-owned companies Pescalba and La Gaviota denounced the militarisation of the state-owned edible oil factory “Diana”, located in the state of Carabobo. The factory was militarised when the workers rejected the appointment by the Minister of Food of a new manager.
According to the human rights NGO PROVEA (Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos), over the last eight years, legislative means have been used to criminalise the right to strike. The group’s coordinator, Marino Alvarado, has highlighted no less than four laws establishing penalties for workers that call or take part in a strike.
In September 2012, an interim injunction prohibiting workers and trade unions at the Agropatria company from demonstrating was imposed by the High Agrarian Court of Aragua and Carabobo by order of the Minister of Agriculture and Land .
In December 2012, workers at the Galletera Carabobo biscuit factory went on strike for nearly 3 months despite a court ruling declaring that the action violated the right to work. In total, 128 workers joined the strike to demand the approval of the collective agreement and respect for freedom of association.
In March 2012, outsourced staff from the state-owned National Electricity Corporation (Corporación Eléctrica Nacional) was not enjoying the benefits of the collective agreement as they were hired directly by the Minister for Energy.
Workers from the state-owned home manufacturer Petrocasa were engaged in a several month long dispute over layoffs and a lack of pay rises at the firm. Workers said they have been shut out of the plant in June 2012 without justification.
In January 2012, a group of 600 workers employed at Polar accused the company of blocking salary discussions during collective bargaining.
On 21 May 2012, an armed assailant entered the EFE ice cream factory (part of the Polar group) in Caracas and asked to see Abraham Rivas, General Secretary of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Socialistas de Productos EFE and also General Secretary of the recently created Federación Nacional Clasista de Trabajadores de Alimentos, Bebidas, Conexos y Afines (FENACTRALBECA), which organises workers in 21 different companies belonging to the Polar Group. The workers became suspicious and when they called the National Bolivarian Guard it was revealed that the man had been hired to carry out an attack on Abraham Rivas.
In February 2012, Elio Sayago was dismissed from his position as worker-president at the state aluminium company CVG Aluminio del Caroní S.A. (CVG ALCASA) and replaced by Angel Marcano.
The President of the Republic violated ILO Convention 144 on tripartite consultation, exercised political discrimination and ignored the representativeness of trade union organisations not close to the government when on 12 December he appointed a 16-member Special Commission to draft a new Organic Labour Law, all of whom are members of the ruling party. The three trade unionists on the commission are from the recently-created “Bolivarian and Socialist Workers’ Confederation” which was selected by the president.
Unjustified delays in collective bargaining negotiations were common practice during 2009, both in the public and private sectors, giving rise to many trade union protests. The delays resulted in the expiry and failure to renew many collective agreements. By June 2009, 243 collective agreements were left unsigned and over 3.500 agreements had not been discussed.