Colombian Court to Order Back Pay for Child Care Workers

The 20,000-member union that represents service providers in Colombia’s publicly-funded childcare programs is celebrating another important victory. Last week, the press leaked information indicating that the country’s highest court will rule in favor of 106 ‘community mothers’ – women who provide childcare for up to 12 children in their own homes – who have sued for back pay for pensions and other benefits, which they had been denied prior to 2014.

It is estimated that some 80,000 of these women worked for as many as 30 years as ‘volunteers’, providing child care services for more than 1.2 million of Colombia’s most vulnerable children, and earning less than half the minimum wage. In 2013 a court ruling, followed by a month-long strike led by sector union Sintracihobi, resulted in an agreement which required government welfare agency ICBF to pay the minimum wage and social security benefits. However, in representation of the countless community mothers who were unable to accrue pensions prior to this agreement, and who continue to work into their 70’s and 80’s, often with work-related illnesses or disabilities, Sintracihobi organized a team of lawyers that has presented thousands of individual lawsuits demanding the government be held accountable for pensions that should have been recognized before 2014. The pending sentence addresses 106 of these cases and would establish momentous jurisprudence justifying the community mothers’ claims.

This comes on the heels of a major win for Sintracihobi in April, when the union struck for 14 days and signed an agreement with ICBF, winning indefinite contracts for childcare workers as of October (2016), priority status for worker-run associations as labor intermediaries, and improved nutrition for the children that benefit from program services. In fact, a bill is currently working its way through congress – also as a result of the agreement signed in April – that would double a pension subsidy currently in place for community mothers.

Regardless, a sentence with wording as leaked last week would be a milestone in the debate regarding labor intermediation in Colombia and provide a solution for the tens of thousands of elderly women who prefer to keep working rather than live in poverty. Already, the media has – once again – positioned Sintracihobi at the forefront of public opinion, fueling the union’s efforts to improve the quality of Colombia’s public services and the quality of life for its workers.