More than 20,000 trade union members and other Ecuadorans protested regressive government reforms in Quito, the capital, last week, with simultaneous marches in seven other cities.
Those taking part in the rallies oppose proposed constitutional amendments, such as one which would deny new civil service employees rights under the country’s Labor Code, and they object to efforts to pass a proposed Labor Relations Law (Ley Orgánica de Relaciones Laborales) before details of the law are made public.
They also oppose the president’s Executive Decree 16, passed in June 2013, which subjects all nongovernmental organizations to increased oversight and gives the executive branch broad powers to dissolve organizations that it says threaten public peace or interfere with public policy.
Spearheaded by Ecuador’s union movement, including the United Workers Front (Frente Unitario de Trabajadores, FUT) and the Inter-Union Committee (Comité Intersindical ), the march drew support from a broad civil society coalition that included indigenous people’s organizations, teachers, students, medical professionals, retirees and unemployed workers. In a statement calling for the national march, FUT noted that despite the country’s economic gains, largely from lucrative oil exports, and increased government investment in public infrastructure, citizen’s livelihoods have not improved and fundamental rights continue to be constrained.
The proposed Labor Relations Law has not been open to civil society input since it was announced by the Ministry of Labor in May 2013. It is expected to move to the legislature in November.
Declaring the popular protests an attempt to destabilize the country, President Rafael Correa ordered massive deployment of authorities to stop the marches. According to two student organizations, the Federation of Secondary Students (La Federación de Estudiantes Secundarios del Ecuador, FESE) and the Federation of University Students (Federación De Estudiantes Universitarios Del Ecuador, FEUE), at least 100 students were detained by police.
The Inter-Union Committee is comprised of four national unions (sugar, water, municipal and provincial government workers unions); two provincial federations (Esmeraldas and Pastaza); and 50 workplace level unions.
Inter-Union Committee affiliates participating in marches included sugar workers in Milagros; provincial government employees, municipal employees and hospital, water and sanitation workers in Cuenca; water and sanitation workers in Santa Isabel; sugar workers, municipal workers and rural workers in Loja; water and sanitation workers in Manta; provincial government workers in Guayas; and municipal workers in Esmeraldes.
Provincial government unions active in the Inter-Union Committee also sent delegations of workers to participate in the marches in Quito, including workers from Azuay, Guayas, Morona, Pastaza and Imbabura.