March 21, 2018 / 3:29 PM / 9 months ago

ILO sets up rare inquiry into Venezuelan workers' rights

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Labour Organization launched a commission of inquiry on Wednesday into complaints that Venezuela is violating standards including freedom of association and workers’ rights to organise, an ILO statement said.

The rare decision by the United Nations agency’s governing body at a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday follows the cancellation of a high-level mission in January because the government excluded three of the nine trade unions that ILO officials had wanted to see.

“We categorically express our disagreement to a commission of inquiry against our government,” Venezuela’s deputy labour minister, Jose Ramon Rivero, told the ILO.

“We regret that Fedecamaras spokespeople are plotting, alongside an undemocratic wing of our country’s opposition to sabotage the municipal, regional and presidential elections on May 20.”

Rivero was referring to a complaint brought in 2015 by the Fedecamaras business group, which has long been at odds with the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Fedecamaras said it was subjected to pressure and intimidation and that there was no dialogue with the authorities.

A commission of three independent experts would examine allegations that the Venezuelan government had failed to comply with conventions on freedom of association, tripartite consultation and setting of minimum wages, an ILO statement said on Wednesday.

Tripartite consultations refer to talks between a government and employers’ and workers’ groups.

The complaint “alleges attacks, harassment, aggression and a campaign to discredit the employers’ organisation – Fedecamaras – its leaders and affiliates”, the ILO statement added.

It also alleged a lack of consultation with Fedecamaras on laws and the adoption of “numerous increases to the minimum wage without consultation with employer and worker representatives”, it said.

Venezuela’s socialist government has long touted its support of workers, regularly holding labour marches, changing legislation that had been in favour of employers and increasing the minimum wage.

Maduro, a former bus driver, constantly refers to himself as Venezuela`s first “worker president”.

However, a crippling economic crisis has left millions earning the equivalent of only a dollar or two a month, at the black market rate, and struggling to find food and medicine.

The ILO governing body is composed of 28 governments, 14 employers’ representatives and 14 workers’ representatives.

The last such ILO investigation involved Zimbabwe in 2008 and there have been only 12 in the past 60 years, including on forced labour under Myanmar’s military junta, ILO spokesman Hans von Rohland said.

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas; Editing by Tom Miles, Richard Balmforth and David Goodman

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