3. Legal Regime
4. Industrial Policies
5. Protection of Property Rights
6. Financial Sector
11. Labor Policies and Practices
An OECD economic survey of Colombia was published in February 2022. The report mentions Colombia’s economy has recovered well from the COVID-19 crisis, but that the labor market remains weak. Colombia has one of the highest levels of poverty, income inequality, and labor market informality in Latin America. At the end of 2021, 46.8 percent of the urban workforce was working in the informal economy, with the national average hovering around 60 percent. The overall unemployment rate was 13.7 percent. The Colombian workforce has a wide range of skills, including managerial-level employees who are often bilingual, but faces large skills gaps and challenges in labor productivity. Colombia has made strong efforts to incorporate Venezuelan migrants into the formal economy, most notably the February 2021 announcement of ten-year Temporary Protected Status for the country’s estimated 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants.
Labor rights in Colombia are set forth in its Constitution, the Labor Code, the Procedural Code of Labor and Social Security, sector-specific legislation, and ratified international conventions, which are incorporated into national legislation. Colombia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of association and provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike (with some exceptions). It also addresses forced labor, child labor, trafficking, discrimination, protections for women and children in the workplace, minimum wages, working hours, skills training, and social security. Colombia has ratified all eight of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) fundamental labor conventions, and all are in force. Colombia has also ratified conventions related to hours of work, occupational health and safety, and minimum wage.
The 1991 Constitution protects the right to constitute labor unions. Pursuant to Colombia’s labor law, any group of 25 or more workers, regardless of whether they are employees of the same company or not, may form a labor union. Employees of companies with fewer than 25 employees may affiliate themselves with other labor unions. Colombia has a low trade union density (9.5 percent). Where unions are present, multiple affiliation sometimes poses challenges for collective bargaining. The largest and most influential unions are composed mostly of public-sector employees, particularly of the majority state-owned oil company and the state-run education sector. Only 6.2 percent of all salaried workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), according to the OECD. The Ministry of Labor has expressed commitment to working on decrees to incentivize sectoral collective bargaining and to strengthen union representation within companies and regulate strikes in the essential public services sector. Strikes, when held in accordance with the law, are recognized as legal instruments to obtain better working conditions, and employers are prohibited from using strike-breakers at any time during the course of a strike. After 60 days of strike action, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration. Strikes are prohibited in certain “essential public services,” as defined by law, although Colombia has been criticized for having an overly-broad interpretation of “essential.”
Foreign companies operating in Colombia must follow the same hiring rules as national companies, regardless of the origin of the employer and the place of execution of the contract. No labor laws are waived to attract or retain investment. In 2010, Law 1429 eliminated the mandatory proportion requirement for foreign and national personnel; 100 percent of the workforce, including the board of directors, can be foreign nationals. Labor permits are not required in Colombia, except for minors of the minimum working age. Foreign employees have the same rights as Colombian employees. Employers may use temporary service agencies to subcontract additional workers for peaks of production. Employers must receive advance permission from the Ministry of Labor before undertaking permanent layoffs. The Ministry of Labor typically does not grant permission to lay off workers who have enhanced legal protections (for example, those with work-related injuries or union leaders). The Ministry of Labor has committed to address using temporary or contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature, although significant challenges remain in this area.
Reputational risks to investors come with a lack of effective and systematic enforcement of labor law, especially in rural sectors. Homicides of unionists (social leaders) remain an ongoing concern. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a public report of review in response to a submission filed under Chapter 17 (the Labor Chapter) of the CTPA by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and five Colombian workers’ organizations that alleged failures on the part of the government to protect labor rights in line with CTPA commitments. In October 2021, the Department of Labor published the second periodic review of progress to address issues identified in the submission report. For these reports and additional information on labor law enforcement see: