ICEM affiliate Sintracarbón in Colombia last week achieved major wage and other gains, including 180 promotions for contract workers. The two-year contract, ratified 78-6 by the union’s Delegates Assembly on 18 January, is with Carbones del Cerrejón, the thermal coal exporter owned by AngloAmerica, BHP Billiton, and Xstrata. As reported in December by the ICEM, miners were seeking social improvements regarding family health, education, transportation, restrictions on outsourcing, and other social responses inside several Colombian communities in la Guijara state.
The renewal agreement covers some 4,000 workers at Colombia’s largest mining operation, and successful negotiation of the contract keeps in place a social dialogue commitment between management of Carbones del Cerrejón and Sintracarbón that the ICEM was instrumental in forging in 2004.
Talks began on 1 December toward a 31 January 2009 expiration, with the union in early January giving a 17 January deadline for negotiations to conclude.
The contract grants an 11% pay increase to Cerrejón miners and workers at the company’s Puerto Bolívar export facility on the Caribbean for 2009, some 3% to 4% higher than the average negotiated settlements in Colombia. In 2010, workers will receive a 7% increase or 1.8% above the 2009 consumer price index, whichever is higher.
Besides 180 precarious workers moving to full-time employment, the employer agrees to respect the right of contract workers to affiliate with Sintracarbón. The negotiations also yielded improvements in transportation to and from the open-cast mines, education stipends for miners’ and port workers’ children, retiree benefits, and talks also produced financial sums to Sintracarbón to perform benevolent deeds and community services.
Besides improvements to health insurance, Cerrejón management agreed to fund a study to be undertaken by the union related to workers’ health concerns.
The Colombian union requested ICEM trigger international solidarity in the form of letters to the managing director, and that call was answered by numerous unions, which had a profound effect. ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda wrote on behalf of the 20-million-member Global Union Federation supporting Sintracarbón, warning the company that an expeditious settlement must come or strike action would result.
Our union is grateful to all the unions, social organisations, NGOs, and community networks that exhibited national and international support that was fundamental and instrumental” in achieving the contract, Sintracarbón said in a statement.
ICEM’s Warda said the labour-management process of social dialogue at Carbones del Cerrejón serves as an impressive example on what can accomplished through mutual respect and shared responsibility.
The Colombian operation of the three multinationals mines a high-quality, low-sulphur thermal coal that meets stringent emissions standards in many countries. The company is embarking on a US$300 million modernisation plan this year to upgrade infrastructure, technology, and mining equipment. The mines produced 32 million tonnes of coal in 2008, with production expected to increase to 40 million tonnes by 2011.