Colombia Labor Market

More than half of Colombians are employed outside the formal economy. Of those with formal employment, just under 20 were union members. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionism.

The majority of Colombians work in the service sector while a fifth work in industry and slightly fewer in agriculture. More than half of Colombians are employed outside the formal economy.

Open unemployment fell below 10 percent in 2013, for the first time in nearly two decades, and has continued to be single-digit since then. But the real figure is higher, as many Colombians are underemployed.

The majority of all salary work is in the major cities, mainly Bogotá and Medellín. The proportion who receive their livelihood in the informal sector is estimated at just over 60 percent.

Changes in labor law have weakened job protection and more and more people now have temporary jobs or project jobs. The working week is 48 hours, placed from Monday to Friday or Saturday. Two weeks holiday is valid.

  • COUNTRYAAH: List of key population facts of Colombia, covering most basic population data, religion statistics, and language profiles.

Colombia Population

Between 2000 and 2012, 63 percent of all murders in the world occurred on union representatives in Colombia, according to the international trade union organization IFS. Despite the fact that the violence has subsided in law, the threat to trade union activists remains great. In 2018, 34 murders of union members occurred, more than in any other country, according to IFS. Militia groups are suspected to be behind the majority of murders, but it is rarely the perpetrators identified or arrested.



9.2 percent (2019)

Youth Unemployment

19.2 percent (2019)



Armistice over Christmas and New Year

December 17

The Marxist guerrilla ELN announces unilateral ceasefire between December 23 and January 3. The message comes after a paramilitary group fighting the ELN in western Colombia announced a ceasefire over the holidays. ELN expresses its willingness to resume peace talks with the government that were suspended when Iván Duque became president in August 2018. It is common for ELN to announce a ceasefire over Christmas and New Year.


Farc leader: “Peace treaty betrayed”

October 2

Two of Farc’s peace negotiators write that the former left guerrilla was naïve who put down weapons before the peace agreement was implemented and the guerrilla soldiers reintegrated economically and socially. They say changes have been made to the agreement after the disarmament and talk about scam and “treason”. Iván Márquez and Óscar Montero have both gone underground, Márquez since resigning as senator in July. Newly-elected President Iván Duque went to election promises to change parts of the peace deal with Farc.


Cocaine production beats the record

September 19

Cocaine production increased by 31 percent in 2017 and reached the highest level measured, reports the UN agency UNODC. Calculated in cultivated area, the increase was 17 percent (which follows an increase of 50 percent the year before). The concern is great that the cocaine trade threatens the peace process in the country. At the same time, the peace process itself is thought to have paved the way for the increase: when Farc dropped his arms, a vacuum was created in the parts of the drug trade that guerrillas controlled – and which were quickly filled by other actors.

ELN liberates soldiers

September 5

Marxist guerrillas ELN release three soldiers who have been held captive for a month. It happens two days before an expiry of the deadline set by the newly appointed government to continue the peace talks. The three soldiers were civilian dressed and unarmed as they were carried away in troubled northeastern Colombia. According to the ELN, they were released from the government without consideration. Six other people – three police officers, two civilians and one soldier – are still being held by ELN. They were kidnapped a week before the three now released soldiers.


Low participation in referendum

August 26th

The turnout is so low in a referendum on tougher measures against corruption that the result does not apply. At least a third of voters would have had to participate for a valid result, but only a third of them would. However, 99 percent of them support the seven proposals, such as lowering Congressmen’s salaries, forcing elected officials to publish their income declarations and imposing a limit of three terms for politicians at the local and national levels.

Duque takes over as president

August 7th

Iván Duque takes office and promises in accordance with election promises “corrections” of the peace agreement with Farc and a tougher stance in the ongoing negotiations with the ELN.

Elevated death toll for armed conflict

August 2

A new official report shows that the number of deaths during the long civil conflict in Colombia amounted to just over 262 00, which is more than 40,000 more than estimated six years earlier (see July 2013). A large majority, or 215,000, of the victims were civilians, while just under 47,000 are considered combatants. The report is presented by the state history center CNMH, which points out right-wing militia as the main culprit of the violence: approximately 95,000 murders are attributed to them, compared with just under 37,000 for left-wing guerrillas and just under 10,000 for military. Remaining deaths have either been committed by former militia members who “put down weapons” or unidentified perpetrators. More than 200,000 of the deaths occurred during the most violent period, 1996–2004. In 2003, the government signed a peace agreement with the right-wing militia umbrella organization AUC and in 2006 their disarmament was completed (see Modern History).


Uribe leaves Senate seat after mutiny suspicion

July 24

Former President Alvaro Uribe chooses to leave his seat in the Senate after the Supreme Court announced that he will be investigating for bribery. Uribe is also suspected of trying to influence witnesses in the ongoing investigation, where he is also accused of forming a militia to commit murder before becoming president. Uribe says political motives are behind the allegations.

Duque presents new government

July 13

Future President Duque proposes a new government, with Carlos Holmes Trujillo as Foreign Minister, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez as Minister of the Interior, Alberto Carrasquilla as Minister of Finance and Guillermo Botero as Minister of Defense.


Duque wins the presidential election

17th of June

Iván Duque wins as expected in the second round of the presidential election, with 54 percent of the vote against 42 percent for Gustavo Petro. The turnout is 53 percent.

Ex-guerrillas killed

June 13th

The army states that 16 former members of a Farcger guerilla outbreak group were killed at the border with Venezuela. Farcavhopparna is said to have done a joint thing with ELN in an attempt to take control of drug smuggling in the area. The groups also engage in arms smuggling and blackmail, according to the military. The effort is said to be the most comprehensive so far against Farcavhoppare.

New ceasefire around Election Day

June 9

The ELN promises to allow the weapons to rest in connection with the second round of the presidential election, from June 15 to June 19.


Colombia member of the OECD

30 May

Colombia joins the OECD as the third country in Latin America, after Chile and Mexico.

No winner in the first round

May 27th

After the first round of the presidential election, it is clear that what is expected will be a second round between right candidate Iván Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro. Duque gets 39 percent of the vote in the first round. Petro, candidate for the alliance Colombia Humana secures second place by just under 25 percent. In third place Sergio Fajardo follows with 24 percent. Then followed by Germán Vargas Lleras with 7 percent and Humberto de la Calle with 2 percent. The election is held under calm circumstances and with a higher turnout than for a long time: 53 percent.

Colombia becomes NATO partner

May 25

Colombia becomes NATO’s first “global partner” in Latin America as of next week, President Santos announces. An agreement on the partnership was reached in May 2017, following the peace agreement with Farc. This involves, among other things, cooperation with the Western Defense Alliance on issues related to, among others, cyber security, terrorism and organized crime, as well as the capabilities and knowledge of the Colombian defense. Colombia will have representation at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels but will not necessarily participate in military operations.

Talks on ceasefire with ELN

May 18

The government and representatives of the left-wing guerrilla ELN launch talks in Havana to conclude a mutual ceasefire before the presidential election.

Disputed extradition is halted

May 17

The court that is investigating crimes committed by Farc hinders extradition to the United States by Jesús Santrich, who was arrested in April. The court will now investigate whether the crimes the US is accusing him of were committed before or after the signing of the peace agreement. Farc has warned that the arrest of Santrich jeopardizes the entire peace settlement. A few days after the extradition was stopped, Santrich stated that he had canceled his hunger strike, after 41 days.

ELN announces ceasefire at the election

May 14

The left-wing guerrilla ELN announces the ceasefire days on Election Day on May 27. The ceasefire will start at midnight on the night of May 25 and will last for five days.

Truth Commission is appointed

May 8

President Juan Manuel Santos formally appoints a Truth Commission to try to shed light on the many crimes committed during a half-century of civil war. The Truth Commission, set up in accordance with the peace agreement, consists of eleven members elected by representatives of the UN, the European Court of Justice, the judiciary and state universities. The Commission is led by Jesuit priest Francisco de Roux, who is known for his work on human rights. The work will start in November and will last for three years.

Cuba new host for peace talks

May 5th

Negotiations between the government and the ELN will continue in Cuba after Ecuador has withdrawn. In addition to Cuba, another four countries are behind the talks: Brazil, Chile, Norway and Venezuela.

Mass graves discovered

May 2

Remains of 9,000 people who fell victim to paramilitary groups’ violence during the civil war have been found in mass graves, prosecutors say. The mass graves have been found using testimonies from former members of the right wing militia AUC (see Modern History).


Peace talks are moved from Ecuador

April 18

Ecuador will no longer host peace talks with the ELN, because of the disputes that the Colombian left-wing guerrillas have been involved in along the border between the two countries. Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Ángela Holguín says it is understandable that Ecuador does not want to host in the current circumstances and thanks the neighboring country for its efforts.

State of emergency after rebel fighting

April 16

The governor of Norte de Santander announces state of emergency because of fighting between two rival rebel groups, ELN and EPL (People’s Liberation Army). The two groups’ struggle for control of a boiling region has forced around 1,000 families from their homes. The region where the boil is grown, Catatumbo at the border with Venezuela, was previously controlled by Farc.

Police killed in blast attacks

April 11

Eight police officers are killed when an explosive charge explodes on a road in the northwest, in an attack that the criminal gang Golfoklanen is suspected to be behind. The police officers were escorting government officials who were assigned to return land to people displaced from their home districts by the armed conflict. President Santos orders the security forces to sharpen their efforts against the gang.

Farc leaders are arrested at US request

April 9

Former peace negotiator and Farc member Jesús Santrich is arrested in Bogotá following a US request, suspected of drug smuggling. Santrich is one of the ten Farc members assigned to a seat in Congress and is scheduled to take his place in July. The charges against him are a serious setback to the peace process. Santrich is suspected of planning to smuggle ten tons of cocaine into the United States, worth $ 320 million, after the peace agreement was signed in the fall of 2016. Farc claims the charges are contrary to the peace deal – according to previous rebels not to be extradited for crimes committed before the agreement was signed.


Peace talks with ELN resume

March 15th

Peace talks with left-wing guerrillas ELN resume in Ecuador’s capital Quito, after a break since January. The goal is to agree on a new ceasefire that will pave the way for a peace settlement.

The right is the biggest in the congressional elections

11th of March

In the congressional elections, conservative parties that oppose the peace agreement have the wind in their sails. The largest will be ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s Party Democratic Center (CD). Farc, as expected, receives weak voter support, only half a percent, but is guaranteed a mandate in accordance with the peace agreement. The contemporary primary elections ahead of the May presidential elections provide a ready team lineup, with CD’s Iván Duque as candidate for the leading right alliance and Gustavo Petro as the primary left candidate. Other candidates are Sergio Fajardo, Germán Vargas Lleras, Humberto de la Calle, Piedad Córdoba, Juan Carlos Pinzón and Viviane Morales.

Farc leader withdraws from presidential election

March 8th

The leader of former Farc left-wing guerrilla Rodrigo Lodoño is withdrawing his candidacy in the presidential election following a heart attack. Lodoño had only the support of a single percentage of opinion polls before the May elections. Farc is now a political party.

ELN soldiers killed in battle

6 March

Ten members of the ELN guerrillas in Antioquia are killed when a military attacks a group suspected of being behind attacks on the electricity grid in the area, the military says. Both the Air Force and Army soldiers participate in the attack. Three ELN soldiers must have been taken prisoner.


New attack on soldiers

February 27th

Five soldiers are killed and ten injured when a road mine explodes in Norte de Santander in the northeast. The army accuses ELN of being behind the attack.

ELN arms rest during the election

February 26th

The ELN guerrillas announce a ceasefire that will apply March 9-13, that is, the days surrounding the congressional elections. At the same time, the ELN calls on President Santos to resume peace talks, which have been down since the end of January.

Farc cancels election campaign for security reasons

February 9

Former guerrilla Farc is suspending its campaign work ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections this spring, due to threats against campaign workers. The party’s elections have been disturbed by protests, especially the presidential candidate and former guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño. The party states that these are organized attacks and require security guarantees from the authorities.

Neighboring countries seek to stop refugee waves

February 8

Both Colombia and Brazil announce that control at the borders with Venezuela should be tightened, as the number of Venezuelans seeking to visit neighboring countries has increased sharply. The message triggers a rush towards the border crossing at the Colombian city of Cúcuta, as many fear it will soon be closed. Colombian authorities have reported that the number of Venezuelans in the country increased by 62 percent in the second half of 2017, to 550,000.

Air attack against ELN base

February 1st

Three guerrillas are killed in an air strike against a guerrilla base in the northwest.


The peace talks with ELN are canceled

January 29th

President Santos interrupts peace talks with ELN after a weekend when the left guerrilla conducted three blast attacks against police stations in northern Colombia. A total of seven police officers were killed and up to 50 were injured. ELN is said to have taken on the first and deadliest of the assaults, where five police officers were killed in the city of Barranquilla. Another explosion hit Barranquilla while the third was performed in Santa Rosa del Sur.

Oil engineer kidnapped

January 13

An oil engineer in Saravena near the Venezuela border is abducted by armed men who say they belong to the ELN, a few days after the breakdown in the peace talks between the guerrillas and the government. The kidnapping is carried out shortly before UN Secretary-General António Guterres arrives in the country to meet with President Santos and members of the UN effort overseeing the peace agreement with Farc.

New assaults threaten peace talks

January 10

President Santos recalls his chief negotiator Gustavo Bell just as a new round of peace talks would begin in Quito. The calls are thus postponed indefinitely. The reason is that ELN carried out an attack on an oil line and a fleet base just hours after the cease-fire expired (see October 2017).

Colombia Labor Market