(Translated by John I. Laun, a CSN volunteer translator)
The workers who cut, chop up, and plant sugar cane in the sugar industry in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca Department have gone on strike, forced to do so by hard working conditions. They have decided to present a list of demands, among which are the following:
1. Abolition of intermediaries, which are so-called “work cooperatives”, which hire the workers, to be replaced by direct contracts with the sugar mills. The use of the intermediary “cooperatives” leads to a precarious situation for the workers, since it eliminates the possibility of making a sugar mill provide benefits, such as funds for education or housing or bonuses for length of service or vacations, since there is no direct contract between the workers and the sugar mill company.
2. The type of work is piece-work; the mills pay for the amount of cane cut in the work-day. Today they pay 5,713 pesos ( about $2.72) per cut ton. From these wages the mills deduct social security (pension and health insurance), social contributions to the “cooperative”, other insurance and additional discounts. With these deductions the worker receives only about 3,000 pesos (about $1.42) per ton.
3. The workers are also demanding payment for the days lost due to a halt in production by the mills; payment for days used for medical check-ups, for which they are not now paid by the mills; and payment for the first three days of disability due to illness which the EPS, the businesses in charge of providing health services, do not recognize.
4. Effective control of the weighing of the sugar cane cut by the workers, with agreed-upon and transparent mechanisms, to eliminate doubts with respect to the real weight of the cane the workers have cut.
5. An increase in wages of 30% to compensate for the very high cost of living, the lengthy work days, and the roughness of the work of cutting sugar cane.
6. A resolution by the mills, the EPS health professionals, and the professional risk insurers (ARP), to the problem of more than 200 cane cutters who are disabled annually, who are relocated to other work and the cane cutters who are found to be permanently totally disabled and to whom a pension is denied.
Up to the present ASOCANA, the Association of Sugar Cane Growers, the trade organization which represents the different mills and the plants which produce ethanol, has refused to agree to the requests and demands of the workers, who represent more than 18,000 families in 12 municipalities in the region. The Government of Uribe Velez, facing the evident shortage of sugar in the Colombian market, recently authorized the importation of sugar from countries such as Bolivia. This importation seeks to undermine the struggle of the workers, since it is well known that sugar is an item which is highly protected by tariffs.
This is how the government of Uribe Velez proposes to connect us to the globalized world; it seeks competitiveness through making the status of workers precarious and by exploiting them. Ethanol which these plants produce is exported to countries such as the United States and Spain as the base of the bio-combustibles which millions of motorists in these countries use in their automobiles, not knowing about the hard and miserable conditions in which ethanol is produced in Colombia.
Because it is in a region highly lashed by the action of paramilitary groups, the labor union movement was practically beheaded and dismantled. For that reason we seek effective and real solidarity with the movement.
The movement of the sugar cane cutters has been converted into a growing civic and popular movement, which provides support to different social, political and economic sectors of several municipalities in Valle del Cauca which are affected by the working conditions unfolding for the cane cutters, who are poor residents of these communities.
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621