The Cerrejon mine is the largest opencast coal mine in Latin America and one of the largest in the world. It is owned by three mining companies listed on the London Stock Exchange – Anglo American, BHP and Glencore. Workers at the mine have been on strike since 31 August. The following is a summary of Comunique 27 from Sintracarbon mine workers’ union, En blanco y negro: ¿Por qué estamos en huelga? dated 1 September 2020.
In black and white: why are we on strike?
The union was in negotiation with the Cerrejon Coal company from the end of 2019 until the beginning of lockdown. Workers were to go on strike because of the intransigence of the company but with lockdown the union withdrew its demands and this extended the existing Collective Labour Agreement (CCT in Spanish) until 30 June 2020.
On 26 June the union presented a reduced list of requests seeking to preserve what workers already had. Negotiations began but the company maintained an intransigent stance and on 15 July attempted to impose the ‘Death Shift’ to reduce costs by laying off 25% of the work force. It also wants to eliminate, reduce or freeze benefits.
The company insists on ending:
• conversion of contracts to indefinite term contracts
• transport subsidies for residents of Barranquilla and Valledupar
• educational aid for pensioners’ children, aid for the pensioners’ association (despite the fact that some of these pensioners are disabled as a result of their work in the mine)
• contributions to therapeutic centres
• adjustments to pay in the second year of the agreement in line with changes to the Consumer Price Index
• and assistance with investigation of occupational diseases by the union.
The company wants to reduce:
• provision of transportation to local towns in La Guajira
• holiday and Christmas bonuses (which help reduce base income for social security contributions and therefore decrease the value of future medical assistance)
• signing bonus at 31.25%
• early retirement bonus
• and salary increase for efficiency and productivity.
The company wants to freeze at 2019 values for the two year term of the CCT:
• aid for university studies
• loans for university education
• additional health insurance plans
• free investment loans
• seniority premium
• bonus for meeting goals
• and number of home loans and interest rates.
It wants to freeze at 2019 values and adjust according to the 2020 Consumer Price Index but only in July 2021:
• extralegal service premium
• conventional special premium
• assistance to culture, sports and recreation clubs.
The union’s proposals
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.
Rejection of the ‘Death Shift’
Cerrejon has tried to impose this new shift pattern even though it was not part of the negotiations. Sintracarbon strongly rejects imposition of the new shift because it would lead to increased fatigue and therefore be dangerous, would limit time workers can spend with their families, is connected with the laying off of about 1250 workers and would not even have a major impact on company finances given that the company would have to pay severance pay and increased overtime costs for remaining workers. The company says that other mining companies use this shift pattern. Sintracarbon counters by saying that at those companies’ mines, workers were hired to work that shift pattern whereas at Cerrejon workers have over the years achieved a healthier shift pattern which they are not willing to lose. More information on the union’s objections to the proposed shift pattern is available here.