Oil Workers Persecuted for Strike Action

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Workers Demonstrate in July Protests. Some have faces covered for fear of reprisals.

Workers Demonstrate in July Protests. Some have faces covered for fear of reprisals.

In the department of Meta, mostly around the town of Puerto Gaitan, there are some 12,500 subcontracted workers labouring in terrible conditions for companies such as Pacific Rubiales, Ecopetrol, Secolsa. The working conditions are so poor that they violate both ILO conventions and Colombian national law. During July workers began a series of protests to achieve improvements in their work conditions. Thousands went on strike and many joined the USO oil workers’ union, despite government efforts to break up peaceful protest camps, the arrest of trade union activists, and hostility from private security companies.

The protests were successful in forcing the government and the companies to agree to a forum that took place on August 3rd, in which the Vice President, Angelino Garzon participated. This forum decided on 4 main points of dialogue and agreed that sacked workers would be rehired, and there would be no reprisals against workers. It also decided that within 15 days 8 working groups would be established which would deal with a variety of topics that concerned the protesting workers, including labour conditions, salaries and environmental issues.

However, the USO oil workers’ union reports that the established time frame has elapsed and not a single working group has been convened. Furthermore, the union reports that the subcontracting companies (MR, Intricon, Electrico Medellin, Duflo SA, and Montajes JM) have begun to actively persecute their workers for having participated in the protests and for having joined the USO. Some 70 workers have been fired from their jobs, and others are being sent forms threatening them with the sack unless they leave the union. Other workers are being asked to re-confirm that they want their union subs deducted from their wages, despite agreement to this being a condition of joining the union. The USO also reports that the companies are still refusing to hire local labour, and instead are bussing in unskilled workers from Bogota.

In the meantime the Colombian Ministry of Social Protection which deals with labour disputes has claimed that its representatives have visited Meta 162 times to negotiate with workers. However, according to USO this is not true. A few visits have been made by Ministry functionaries, but they have refused to meet with Union and community representatives, and have only met with company management.

This underlines the Colombian government’s ingrained hostility towards organised labour, and its lack of good faith in negotiations with trade unions. In the face of this hostility and the government’s failure to take the desperate situation of the workers seriously, the unions and local communities are once more preparing to mobilise.

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