Sintracarbón mine workers’ union goes on strike at Cerrejón, Colombia
- The Cerrejón coal mine is jointly owned by London based companies Anglo American, Glencore and BHP.
- The union is resisting company attempts to reduce the workforce by 25%, impose potentially dangerous new shift patterns & reduce or end several employee benefits.
- 99% of members of the Sintracarbón union who voted supported strike action.
- Cerrejón employs more than 5,500 workers, including 4,600 union members.
After months of negotiations with the Cerrejón Coal Company, workers in the Sintracarbón mine workers’ union have voted to take strike action. The negotiations, which began in late 2019, were paused when the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in Colombia. At that point, the union had been prepared to begin strike action but withdrew its demands in favour of extending the previous Collective Labour Agreement (CCT in Spanish) until 30 June 2020.
When negotiations resumed on 26 June, the union presented a reduced list of requests, seeking to preserve the conditions of the previous agreement. However, on 15 July Cerrejón Coal attempted to introduce a new shift pattern for workers despite this not having been part of the negotiations. Workers have dubbed this shift pattern ‘the Death Shift’ (Turno de la Muerte) and Sintracarbón have strongly rejected this imposition 1. They argue that it would lead to increased fatigue and therefore be dangerous, would limit time workers can spend with their families, and is connected with the laying off of about 1250 workers.
Igor Diaz, President of Sintracarbón, said:
‘We are on strike because Cerrejón wants to eliminate the historical rights that we have achieved through collective bargaining, which are not on the table for negation. That is the imposition of the ‘Death Shift’, which we have strongly rejected as it will affect the health, life and social fabric of the workers and their families.
This is a problem related to the right to work, as the decision to change the working shift, eliminates about 1200 jobs of direct workers and a similar number of indirect workers.’
Alongside the new working hours, the company also aims to eliminate, reduce and/or freeze many of the benefits workers’ have previously secured. Changes the company wishes to make include an end to conversion of contracts to indefinite term contracts and certain transport subsidies for workers, reduction of Christmas bonuses and salary increases for productivity and the freezing at 2019 levels of health insurance plans2. The union wants to maintain existing benefits and ensure pay is raised according to the Consumer Price Index. It wants continued conversion of contracts to permanent ones, continued assistance with education and health matters, continuation of the productivity bonus and timely disability payments.
Of the negotiation process, Igor Diaz said:
‘Cerrejón wants to eliminate the historical achievements of the Union. The negotiation needs to be progressive, meaning that what has been achieved is respected and what is negotiated is what needs to be improved. That is the discussion, but Cerrejón is focusing only on decreasing the benefits to the workers.’
For addition information or to arrange interviews with Sintracarbón representatives or allies in the UK, please contact:
Saul Jones – Communications Coordinator, London Mining Network
Phone: 07928 443248
Diana Salazar – Researcher