Whilst there have been no legislative changes in collective relations in Colombia during 2012, with the National Congress turning its attention to other matters, there have been some noteworthy developments due to various Court decisions and the practical effect of previous rulings of the Supreme Court starting to have an impact.
In one important decision, the Supreme Court confirmed the position on incorporating reinstatement into Collective Bargaining Agreements. The Court said that for reinstatement to be enforceable it must be expressly incorporated into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If the employer and the labor union agree to apply a law that provides for reinstatement, which is not in force, but do not incorporate the agreement into the text of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, reinstatement cannot be invoked before a Labor Judge.
On the industrial action front, the Constitutional Court ruled that strikes are illegal if the company is dedicated to rendering essential public services. Although this is not a novel ruling, as it reiterates previous Constitutional Court decisions, the current state of affairs in Colombia means that the decision has much greater impact. Employees from the judiciary have been on strike since October 11, 2012. This has triggered immeasurable social, political and economic consequences. Thousands of judicial trials have been suspended and have not been able to progress, a vast number of new trials are pending to be filed as the courts are not accepting new claims and prisoners - including those convicted of serious felonies - have been released. The economic impact of the strike is estimated to be in the millions of pesos. Meanwhile judicial officers continue their strike and there is no sign that the strike will end any time soon.
Against this backdrop, the ruling by the Constitutional Court that it is illegal for those working in essential public services to strike, has significant consequences. Although there is no consensus as to whether the administration of justice is an essential public service, with the unions alleging that it is not, this ruling is very important nonetheless, particularly as the Supreme Court of Justice will judge whether or not the strike is legal. The Supreme Court's decision will also affect whether the salary of striking employees will be paid in full or otherwise.
In these circumstances, we expect that 2013 will bring some very interesting developments on collective labor relations. The discussion will primarily be focused around the legality or otherwise of the judiciary strike. We expect the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice to have significant consequences not just on public sector workers, but also on the private sector, in particular, in those companies with labor unions who commonly face illegal strikes