BLOG - Digitalization of the collective bargaining process in Colombia and Guatemala: let’s start!

The project about the digitalization of the collective bargaining process follows other initiatives run in Latin America by WageIndicator and CNV during last years.
Its aim is to facilitate social dialogue in Colombia and Guatemala and ultimately to empower trade unions.

What does ‘digitalization’ mean in such a context?

It means we need to use information technology as a tool to make the storage, the access, the analysis, the comparison and the creation of collective agreements (CBAs) smarter, easier and faster. As a result of such a process, we aim to have shorter, more transparent and easier to understand CBAs, which is very good for workers.

How do we do this?

First, we tried to find out what are the main issues that CGTG (Confederación Central General de Trabajadores de Guatemala) and CGT (Confederación General del Trabajo - Colombia) face in the collective bargaining process. By answering a short questionnaire, they said that their difficulties are mainly to find out what workers need and which issues they have, and also to determine the socio-economic situation of the companies. In Guatemala, they added that the negotiation with the employers is also one of the hardest parts in the process.

The idea we have in mind is to think of collective agreements as structures made of ‘Lego blocks’, each block being a different topic with its own provisions that can change from CBA to CBA, but whose structure stays (if possible) the same.

By analysing a few collective agreements of both countries, we managed to see some patterns and recurring topics. Being able to isolate which of these ‘blocks’ usually stay the same and which ones, on the contrary, are ‘negotiable’, will allow us to:

- Create CBA samples, which can be downloaded online and serve as a basis for negotiators;

- Pinpoint ‘hot topics’ and present them to workers, so that they can say which ones are the most important for them. 

To discuss and work on this, from the 20th of July and for two weeks, meetings will be held with CGTG and CGT in Guatemala (first week) and Colombia (second week), respectively.

What will we do in these two weeks?

- I will present briefly the Collective Agreements Database (how it works online and the type of data that we collect) and I will summarize the results of the analysis of collective agreements that I have done.

- We will discuss and fix the sample CBA that I have prepared, and see if and for which sectors it can work.

- If possible, we will try to make a sample CBA for a different sector together.

- We will try to pinpoint the main topics and think of a way for workers to vote on the most important issues for them. Depending on the level of Internet usage among workers, we can think of either paper or Google survey.

From 20th July and for two weeks, a diary of these meetings in Guatemala and Colombia will be published here as a blog. Let’s start!


DAY 1 – 20th July

It’s a sunny Monday morning in Guatemala City, the perfect day to start working on something new.

In the headquarters of the CGTG (Confederación central de trabajadores de Guatemala), we - Victoriano Zacarias Mendez, Julio Juarez Duenas, Jorge Pu Mendoza, Catalina Lopez Pascual from CGTG and Daniela Ceccon from WageIndicator - started talking about the project and discussion immediately took us to the main issues.

First we had a look together at the site, at the collective agreement database in particular. We saw how collective agreements are shown online, how the comparison works and also had a look at the data dump.

Then, we started the discussion about two main issues:

1. Would a sample CBA be useful in making collective bargaining easier?

2. Would a questionnaire to workers be useful to understand what workers want?

Answer to both questions is ‘yes’, because these two things would fulfill the need of trade unions to make the collective bargaining process more clear and simple. In some cases a sample CBA is not needed – because the ‘sample’ they use is the previous CBA and they only change that one -, in some cases they know what workers want because the trade unions representatives in companies organize assemblies where workers can vote and participate in deciding what needs to be improved or discussed with the employer.

The issue is that all this is true in some cases, but there are many other cases where trade unions don’t have a sample CBA to start from, don’t know what is actually important for workers and anyway don’t follow a specific process to get to the new collective agreements.

A questionnaire for workers may be an interesting idea, but we all agreed that workers also need to be informed about what a collective agreement is and why it is important for them to tell trade unions what are their needs. Another issue is the difficulty for many people to access the Internet. One solution may be that trade unions in the company invite workers to their room to visit the website and answer to questions. Other options – but a bit more complicated from a logistical point of view – are to give workers a small questionnaire in paper or to put a big paper in the trade union’s office, where workers can vote. In all cases, the questionnaire should start with some information about what is a collective agreement and about the Tusalario website.

We had a look at the sample CBA for the public sector: we read all articles together and identified which ones need to be improved or changed. We will discuss this in detail on Wednesday with trade unionists of the public sector. We hope we will have a proper sample for municipalities by the end of Wednesday.

Tomorrow morning we will start working on a private sector sample with trade unionists specialized in negotiations in specific sectors (clothing and food).

There was also a small discussion about debates: CGTG pointed out that it is difficult for them to organize big debates, so we thought it is maybe easier for them to organize smaller debates, with less participants. Also, they said it is difficult to make workers know about Tusalario, especially those that are not members of a trade union. In this case, it is necessary to advertise more through radio, posters, etc.

The productive day ended with some heavy rain, typical in the Guatemalan winter season. 

DAY 2 – 21st July

It was an intense day of work, today. Together with trade unionists from the private sector (food and hospitality), we created a sample collective agreement that may work for most sectors in Guatemala. It is a bit long, but very complete. There were discussions, proposals and explanations, and we managed to go through the entire collective agreement and decide which are the provisions that should come in every collective agreement and which ones are optional.

Next step: is it possible to simplify this even more and get to a few ‘basic’ Lego blocks surrounded by ‘optional’ Lego blocks?

Having a sample collective agreement for public sector as well will definitely help in simplifying more and more. We will experiment more tomorrow! 

DAY 3 – 22nd July

With Alberto Ramirez - the general secretary of CGTG - and the legal advisers Jaime Humberto Bautista and Edna Magnolia Liquez Romero, we analysed in detail the sample collective agreement for public sector and improved it article by article. It was hard work, but the result is really something unique, according to the legal advisers as well: nothing like that has ever been done before and they will definitely use it to make easier and faster negotiations.

The general secretary of CGTG also expressed his satisfaction for the work and the result. All agreed that the idea of ‘Lego blocks’ is good and that we can see which blocks can stay the same and which are to be negotiated, which ones are the basics and which ones are optional. As this sample for municipalities is very well structured and has been simplified a lot, the ‘blocks’ idea applies really well to it. 

Still, we need to check in practice the option of having a voting system for workers, although everybody seems to like the idea. More meetings are due tomorrow: let's try and make more steps! ^_^

DAY 4 – 23rd July

This day was very particular as we had the opportunity to discover a completely new world: the world of independent street vendors.  As they don’t have any employer, one could think that they don’t have nor need collective agreements. This is not true. Some municipalities (yes, this is who plays the part of the employer, here) actually signed collective agreements with street vendors, who also have their own trade unions. It is the case of Esquipulas, where the vendors managed to get some rights to protect and regulate their jobs. It is not a long CBA, but still it is something.

In the meeting with vendors’ trade unionists, we basically got information from them and they explained their issues. The result of the meeting is that CGTG will organize a round table with those vendors who were able to sign those agreements to prepare a sample CBA. A sample CBA can be a tool for street vendors to negotiate with their municipality, showing what has already been done elsewhere.  CGTG liked our way of working on sample CBAs and they were happy to support such a project.

Curiosity: in hotels one can meet all sorts of people. And one can have a new interesting perspective on wages from a French historian who lives in Chile. Aube, this is her name, is doing research on wages of notaries in Central America… in the 17th and 18th centuries. Like WageIndicator, only in a different historical period! :)

DAY 5 – 24th July

Last day in Guatemala! Together with the General Secretary Alberto Ramirez, we (Victoriano, Jorge, Julio and Daniela) had a final meeting to discuss what has been done. We were all very satisfied, and we agreed that the work on the samples should continue. The municipality one is for sure the best one, and more work can be done on the private sector sample collective agreement. The Lego blocks CBA is really a tool that can be very useful to achieve the aims of this project. We did not prepare the questionnaire for workers, yet, but we will work on it in coming weeks.

The Guatemala trip ends in the dreamlike old city of Antigua, last stop before the sample CBA idea lands in Bogota, Colombia. 

DAYS 6 and 7 - 25th-26th July

These two days were spent traveling to Bogotà and taking a bit of rest. However, discussion and work on the collective agreements samples doesn't stop. The two samples from Guatemala have been uploaded as Google docs and shared with partners, so that they can have a look at them again, make corrections and comments. 

Have questions about this sample and its planned future? Here's a Question-Answer paragraph to help:

1. How is the model related with with the basic labour law?
The provisions in the model are 'blank', which means that it is up to negotiators to fill them in according to what they want to ask and - after - to what they get.  However, together with the lawyers, we gave an extra facilitation to the negotiators by putting in parenthesis what is the minimum provision of the labour law. This is done so that they know that they need to get something more than that. Also, it prevents the municipalities to try and give lower provisions (and this can happen). 
2. How do you think this model can be used in other countries around the world?
To test this, we want to start in Colombia with this model and see what they think, and if they think we can use it to create their own model. It will be interesting, because I will show the result of work in another country and also we can see how much a 'Colombian' model would be different from this one.
3. Are you sure you have the best ever clauses? Or is a model a minimum and the best ever clauses a maximum?  
We put the best Lego blocks together to create a model, but as the provisions need to be filled in, it is up to the negotiators to make them 'the best clauses' in terms of provisions. But if we talk about 'topics', both lawyers agreed that this model is complete and even formally very good. For example, we found that in some CBAs there were complicated clauses, very difficult to interpret even for a lawyer. We cut and simplified those articles to avoid misunderstanding. Language is very important, and we also tried to use proper words for everything and make text easy to understand for everyone.
4. Model is still pretty long - can it be cut it in blocks from which workers can choose among 5 of 10 options?
Model is long, but we have to consider that it is the whole CBA text. What we can do is to try and separate the negotiable blocks from the blocks that are like that and will remain like that. And what can be seen is that negotiable blocks can be 'important for trade unions' or 'important for workers'. :) So, we can imagine a shorter version of the CBA only with those negotiable blocks, which means way shorter.
Reality is complex, but we can try!
DAY 8 - 27th July

First day in the CGT offices in Bogotà got off to a very good start. We met Myriam Luz Triana, the general secretary of the Confederation. In the beginning she had some doubts about the possibility of applying one model to more than one country, but when she actually saw the model we prepared in Guatemala, she agreed that with some changes it could be applied to her country as well.
What we discussed was that Colombian collective agreements are different than what we are used to see in other countries’ CBAs. They contain mostly economical provisions, rather than provisions related to the ‘basic rights’, like days of leave, days of maternity/paternity leave, etc. The reason is that those are negotiated at national level and put in national law. However, we agreed that it would be good to have those in collective agreements as well, because it will help workers in knowing their rights and in some cases there can be better provisions through further negotiation.
This is true mostly for private sector, because there are not many CBAs for the public sector in Colombia. In this case, a model could lead the way to new collective agreements for municipalities or other public institutions.
Myriam liked the project of a sample CBA to be integrated with different Lego blocks according to necessities, and she also liked the idea of using an online form to ask workers which are the topics they are more interested in. 

On Wednesday we will work on a model with 3 trade unionists of the public sector, on Thursday with trade unionists from the private sector. Fingers crossed!

DAY 9 - 28th July

One of the most important elements of our projects related to collective agreements is the database. Today, the work was related specifically to that: together with Jenny, Willington and Clementína, we checked which collective agreements have not been collected by WageIndicator, and we found nine CBAs. Unfortunately, they are not in word format, which will make annotation and upload in the database a bit long, but CGT office helped by creating excel files with a summary of the provisions in each CBA. Extremely useful for the Cobra team! Two of these excels have already been sent to Arcade and Ernest, so that they can check if the corresponding CBAs were rightly annotated. 

Meetings for the coming two days have been arranged. 


DAY 10 - 29th July

Today's meeting in CGT headquarters included trade unionists from the public sector. Specifically: Percy Oyola Palomá (president of UTRADEC-CGT), Clara Triana Solano, Luis Hugo Monroy and Odette Patricia LozanoDiscussion was very interesting, as it made us analyze the very complex situation of public sector in the country.

There are two types of public workers: the so-called "empleados publicos" and the "trabajadores oficiales". The vast majority of public workers (around 90%) are "empleados publicos". Since only a couple of years ago, most of their rights are decided at national level through collective bargaining with the government. Whatever is decided at national level is then put into practice through decrees. In those decrees it is also decided what every public institution can negotiate, and these are usually very small things: in some cases it is only salary, in other cases it is also training and social bonuses. What "empleados publicos" can obtain is not a proper collective agreement, but an "Acuerdo laboral" (Work agreement), which involves very few issues and which varies a lot according to the different institutions. A sample in this case is not an option.

"Trabajadores oficiales" are those who work in construction and maintenance of public buildings and works, and those who work in state-owned companies, like the liquor ones. These workers represent the 10% of public workers and can negotiate and obtain collective agreements that are very similar to those signed in private sector. 

After a long discussion, we decided that it could be useful to try and have a sample for these 'Trabajadores oficiales", but we could not start working on it in practice. We managed to have one good example (the one of the liquor company Nectar), which can be useful as a start.

DAY 11 - 30th July

Today's meeting focused on private sector. Jorge Espinosa - organization secretary of CGT - first explained in detail how negotiation process works in the private sector in Colombia. Then, he showed how a collective agreement is made, what are usually its parts and what they are about. This was very important, as we then started to discuss about how a model could be made and if it would work or be useful for trade unions. Discussion was again particularly strong, but very fruitful as we could understand how a sample could be useful. It wouldn't be useful for big companies, who already have complex CBAs and start negotiation from those, but rather as a sample / guide for trade unions and companies who haven't signed any CBA yet. In general it would be useful to be kept as a sample document for everyone.

Discussion with Nidia Tarazona of CGT was also useful, as she was the one who in the beginning was more critical towards the idea of making a sample. But it was good for discussion, and in the end we agreed that the sample doesn't have to be a static fixed thing, but it can be adapted to sectors. Moreover, it can be a guide for all trade unions to improve the way they structure a CBA. For example, putting maternity under 'General/Social section' and not under 'Economical' section makes it easier to achieve something in negotiation. That was an interesting point, which may be applied in the model With Nidia we also talked about the questionnaire for workers and she found it a very good tool to understand what workers are more interested in and as a guide for the trade union to decide which direction to take in negotiation.

Cool extra thing of the day: Maria del Mar Quintana, a journalist of El Tiempo, the most important newspaper in Colombia, needed an interview for an article about the wages of graduated students in the world. So, WageIndicator got its moment of celebrity in the newspaper as well!

DAY 12 - 31th July

Last day in Bogotà! Morning was dedicated to more detailed work on the sample. Jorge analyzed the sample that we had and added all the provisions that are more common in Colombian collective agreements and fixed a bit the structure. As he was the person who most worked on the model and he is very much in the know both from practical and legal point of view, we decided he will be the right person to come to the conference in Amsterdam to discuss the project with Victoriano from Guatemala and all WageIndicator guests from different countries. 

We then met Myriam and the director of CGT Julio Roberto Gomez Esguerra to explain what has been done and they both agreed on Jorge coming to Amsterdam. 

Thanks to Clara, in the afternoon there was an unexpected cool visit of the state-owned company Nectar, where the famous liquor aguardiente is produced. Then, we had "chocolate completo" and all sorts of typical pastries, as a perfect, sweet goodbye to Colombia.

Now the work continues in Amsterdam: see you at the WageIndicator conference!