Source : THE NATIONAL UNION OF WORKERS OF THE COAL INDUSTRY (SINTRACARBON)
Press Release #27
Riohacha, February 7, 2013
( Translated by John I. Laun, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Original in Spanish : http://www.sintracarbon.com/sala-de-prensa/90-sintracarbón,-obligado-a-decretar-la-hora-cero-de-la-huelga-en-carbones-del-cerrejón.html
For the first time in 22 years SINTRACARBON finds itself required to stop mining work in the Cerrejon mine, which is operated by Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd, the company which has the concession for mining Colombian coal in the Department of La Guajira.
Since last November 29, when the union delivered a set of requests to the company, this union organization has sought to have Carbones del Cerrejon, which is owned by the multinationals Xstrata – Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton, recognize the justice, equity and legitimacy of the union’s proposal on the topics of health and professional risks, dignity of their collaborators, equal treatment for third party workers, protection of the environment of La Guajira and respect for the communities of the region.
In the intense, direct negotiations, concerning which the union supplied information permanently to the workers, the communications media and public opinion, the negotiating committee of the union sought to have the company recognize the conditions of the 700 workers who suffer irreversible diseases as a consequence of their work. We also ask the Company to renounce the legal battles with which it sought to avoid recognizing the work – related illnesses of coal mining . In addition, we call attention to the inappropriate vehicles which the Company uses for transporting the workers who, after working 12 hour shifts, have to travel in urban buses slightly modified as interstate buses.Up to now Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd has refused to discuss and recognize these Constitutional rights of their collaborators.
We workers also have encountered the resistence of the Company to respect the guarantees which the law gives us to choose the health service with which we wish to affiliate. At the present time we are required to receive the poor attention of COOMEVA, which has not invested in the health infrastructure where it provides services, nor offered respectable contracts with hospitals which provide service to this working community and its families.
From the perspective of the international agreements signed by Colombia and recognizing that the dignity of workers is one, we the negotiators of SINTRACARBON have demanded the improvement of working conditions for the 7,000 workers in the mine who provide services and are hired by third parties. They are denied labor rights, proper attention to their health and union rights. We reject once again that the mine pretends to say that these workers do not do fundamental labor work ; they are our companions in mining activities, maintenance and mining coordination.
Silence has been the reply of the Company to our demand in the present negotiation process that it agree not to change the course change of the Rancheria River, which would put at risk the life of the only river of the Guajira and the lives of those thousands of persons who depend upon it. Contemporary technology permits developing methods of mining coal which do not destroy the life of the river, the environmental quality of our Department and the health of the communities.
Likewise, those of us who have been spokesmen for the 3,780 workers in this process feel frustrated because we have not received a reply of the Company to our request that its program of social responsibility be properly effective, above all in relation to the communities which are displaced from the zone of mining operations and which they suffer the loss of their sources of income and customs.
In the process of discussions in which we demonstrated our willigness to consider options, the negotiators made it possible to adjust the economic request of the workers of Cerrejon to the realities of the most profitable coal mine in the country and the perspectives of temporary reduction of the international price of coal. This attitude did not find a response by a Company which is preparing to invest $1.3 billion dollars in technology but does not wish to increase present labor cost by even 3%. Those labor costs now are 6.5% of the total of their income.
Instead of the transparency of a negotiating process which we are carrying out before public opinion with great seriousness, instead of our disposition for dialogue, instead of our openness to holding meetings with spokespersons of the National Government, which are not ordered by law, we members of SINTRACARBON have encountered a campaign of disparagement initiated by the Company against the negotiating Committee, with a rush to put the Government at the service of their interest and with a lack of interest in hearing and responding to our just and humble proposals for negotiation.
As a conseqence of the failure of the negotiations with Carbones del Cerrejon and in the unappealable decision of our union to struggle for a better quality of life for the workers it represents and for communities in the vicinity of the mine and Puerto Bolivar, we find ourselves obligated to make the sacrifice of declaring a strike. During this time our familiies will suffer the reduction of their income, pressure of the officials of the Company and the worsening of their conditions of life, but they and we workers accept making this significant effort because we consider that Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd could be a model of business and social responsibility if they were to accept our proposals.
With the seriousness that characterizes us, upon the base or our democratic history, in virtue of the responsibility which the Colombian people recognize in our union organization, we declare the cessation of activities beginning at 3 p.m. today. We are confident that the Ministry of Labor will offer this working communtiy the guarantees necessary to carry out this Constitutional right which covers us as Colombians.
The Negotiating Committee
(The translations may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)