Statement from Sintracarbón (National Union of Workers in the Coal Industry in Colombia)

18 July, 2020

We Say NO to the Shift of Death – Declaration of the Board of Directors of Sintracarbón

Yesterday, 17 July, during the meeting of the Board of Directors of our organization, we made a rigorous analysis of the possible change from the current rotating shift, 2×1-2×3 [see note below], to the shift imposed by Cerrejón and which we have aptly named the 7×3-7×4 Shift of Death. This new shift reduces jobs and directly attacks the decent life and health of workers. For the union, it is unheard of that the only medical and technical support that Cerrejon has to implement such imposed labour conditions is that this harmful shift is used by other companies in the same industry.

The first damage this shift does is to employment, in a region whose GDP depends more than 60% on coal production. It is a harmful and dangerous bet to produce more with fewer people, since no further analysis is required to determine that by forming three crews, Cerrejón will eliminate one of the existing ones. That is 25% fewer jobs, that is, more than 1,200 families without a decent income. It is a mean-spirited treatment of the ancestral owners of coal that in practice the State gave to the multinationals that today own Cerrejón. It must be said that the issue of the pandemic is only an excuse for Cerrejón in terms of reducing jobs, given that since last year it had determined not to renew nearly 400 contracts.

The current 2×1-2×3 shift was not implemented randomly. It was a consequence, about 30 years ago, of the struggle and sacrifice of 11 sacked worker heroes, as well as a brainstorm recorded by a foreign expert who determined that this shift guaranteed the development of the worker in his trade and sufficient rest to face the risks and the hard 12-hour days of mining work. The company is the biggest beneficiary of this shift, since the miners have fulfilled all the goals it has proposed and we have placed Cerrejón at the top of the international coal market. This shift also allows the worker to return home every day, which consolidates the family unit.

It has also allowed the worker to develop personally, including access to higher education, which the company has also used, since many professionals have risen to positions of management and trust (MPT) and were previously technicians, operators or office workers.

All this leaves no option to the Union leadership, in conjunction with the workers, but to oppose the 7×3-7×4 shift of death, since it increases the exposure times to the multiple risks of coal mining and will obviously increase the number of patients whose illness is caused by the employer, the ARL, the EPS and the pension funds; it destroys the possibility of adequate rest during 7 days of work for 12 hours a day, putting the lives of operators and technicians at high risk; disrupts the family unit, a dignified life and the life projects of the workers, which have been possible up to now with the current shift. Finally, comrades, we are facing the most important challenge of recent times, imposed on us by the multinational. It is the change from a dignified life to modern slavery, where once again the multinational intends to burden us with the sustainability of the company, without sacrificing, in any way, the thousand prerogatives enjoyed by the managers of Cerrejón.

Because of all this, the union leadership has determined to mount a head to head fight against the imposition of the slave shift, using all the legal and political tools available to the worker. Understanding the magnitude of this situation, since yesterday we have declared ourselves to be in a Permanent Assembly to deal with this confrontation to which the multinational has challenged us.

We have requested a meeting with the president of the company and formed a commission that will lead union action in order to prevent the start of a shift that would kill more workers in Cerrejón than the pandemic. Likewise, we will activate all the means of communication with the Union members, including face-to-face meetings, to raise the level of awareness that this situation warrants in defence of the current shift.

All these actions will be carried out in parallel to the negotiation process, whose stage of direct settlement began on 14 July, after achieving the signing of the general conditions of negotiation, and its next session will be on Wednesday, July 22. It is impossible that such an existential crisis for the lives of workers will not damage the development of the negotiation despite our great interest in reaching an agreement with the company.

Comrades, the current 2×1-2×3 turn is not perfect, but it is certainly much better than the shift of death. So you have to be ready and vigilant to defend it. It is the defence of our life, our dignity, our health, our well-being, our homes. On the contrary, the shift of death is the consolidation of the great offensive of the company against its workers, not only to reduce, freeze and eliminate conventional benefits, but to end the life and health of the human resource. It is the reliable proof that ultimately “Cerrejon is NOT all of us” and for that reason it must be confronted.

As this is the situation, every act of support counts. Nothing is more important now than the fight for a dignified life and health. Everyone needs to be attentive to the call from the union leadership.

No to the shift of death!
Unity, organization and fight for a decent life, health and family!
18 July, 2020

NOTE: “2×1-2×3” means that miners work two twelve hour days then have one day off, then two more twelve hour days and then have three days off. “7×3-7×4” means that miners work seven twelve hour days then have three days off, then seven more twelve hour days and then have four days off. This means that the company needs fewer teams of workers to get the same amount of work done, and can reduce the number of mine workers by 25%. It also means that mine workers become much more fatigued, with consequent danger to health and safety.

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