Union negotiates with El Cerrejon mine

(Translated by Anne Schoeneborn, a CSN volunteer translator)

Jorge Enrique Robledo, Bogota, December 17, 2008
Leon Teicher
President of Carbones de Cerrejon Limited
Regarding the demands of the workers of Cerrejon
Direct negotiation of the list of demands presented by Sintracarbon, the labor union of workers of Carbones de Cerrejon, has begun.  The union members welcome this step toward collective bargaining, and I hope that these conversations will both develop in a very constructive way and conclude with the necessary improvement of work conditions.
The demands of the workers, which I believe to be reasonable and within the power of the company to meet, are based on the following well-founded concerns.  First: the precariousness of the pay scale, which has been estimated to be one of the lowest within the mining sector worldwide.  Second: the high percentage of outsourced workers, who are not included in the collective bargaining and who suffer from undesirable work conditions.  Third: the occupational illnesses affecting a considerable number of workers, likely due to their work conditions and the way in which the coal is extracted.  Fourth: the need for a definitive resolution to the demands made by communities displaced by the mining operations, such as Tamaquitos, Roche, Changleta and Patilla.  Finally: other issues relating to social security and education (see the attached communiqué), to which I hope the company will respond in a constructive manner.
It is my hope that a company as important as Cerrejon Coal Limited, which is owned by multinationals as well known as BHP Billiton, PLC Anglo American and Xstrata, can find the means of arriving at an agreement that improves labor conditions for Colombians working to extract coal in the Guajira.  
I cordially request that you work to quickly reach a just solution that satisfies the demands of the workers,
I thank you for you attention,

Colombian Senator Polo Democratico Party
Following is the Union’s communiqué, which describes the current state of the negotiations:
National union of coal industry workers “Sintracarbon”
During the week of December 9-12, 2008, the negotiating committee of the company Carbones del Cerrejon Limited (property of the multinational companies BHP Billiton, PLC Anglo American and Xstrata) and Sintracarbon met to discuss the demands of the coal workers.
Despite the fact that these meetings are taking place in a respectful atmosphere, and that during this week the negotiating committee of Sintracarbon won the support of all of its members, trust has been slow in developing.  There remains an air of distrust on the part of both committees, which will have a direct negative impact on our ability to both engage in an open dialogue and to understand one another.   
This dialogue ought to be geared toward finding a means of achieving social equity and justice, and also of justly distributing the wealth and profits of Cerrejon so as to solve the problems faced by workers in the following areas:
-Economic instability and the low salaries of the coal workers (we are the lowest paid workforce within the mining sector worldwide)
-The varying work-related health problems of the more than 700 sick workers which have gone unrecognized by the company Cerrejon, and in the majority of cases all the judgments of the regional and national health committees are appealed by the company. Our organization rejects this type of attitude, which undermines not only the right to employment and the right to health, but also the most important right that we possess as human beings, which is the right to life.  It’s contradictory that such actions should come from a company that boasts of its respect for human rights.  In practice, Cerrejon refuses to recognize of the illnesses of its workers, subjecting them to a life of indigence once their inability to work exceeds 180 days.  At this point, these workers become a part of the poverty-stricken masses of our country.  
-The continuation of conventional benefits granted to dead or retired workers
-The high costs of education and social security
-That Cerrejon respect the right to free association and collective negotiation (Agreement 87 and 98 of the ILO, ratified by Colombia) of the 5,000 outsourced workers and the 750 workers of the informal sector associated with the company
-That Cerrejon respect the right to employment of workers with fixed contracts
-That a drug and alcohol policy be developed jointly by the company and the union according to the criteria of the ILO and the WHO
-A definite conclusion to the negotiations with the communities of Tamaquitos, Roche, Chancleta and Patilla, establishing productive projects and granting them land and participation in the design and constitution of the new houses and the conservation of the cultural patrimony guaranteeing the sustainable development of these populations.
-That Cerrejon assume the responsibility of culture, recreation, sports and transport on behalf of all its workers, since workers currently must assume part of these costs, which are actually the responsibility of the company
The worst possible response that could be given by Cerrejon to the list of demands of the coal workers is a minimal proposal that leaves the two parties at odds.  This would make it very difficult to later reach an agreement acceptable to both sides.
Sintracarbon is calling for all workers to start demonstrating our solidarity and discontent at our workplaces so that the company may begin to understand who we are and that it is because of our work that the company is able to meet its goals and be profitable.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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