OUR CONFLICT, COMUNIQUE No. 23
Saturday 8 January 2011 was the eleventh day of alloted time to reach a direct settlement in the collective labour dispute between SINTRACARBON and the Cerrejon company, the property in equal parts of the multinational companies BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata. This means that only nine days are left to complete the negotiations, and some of these have to discounted because our Negotiating Commission must fulfill some commitments to union members, among them the march planned for 11 January and the holding of the National Delegates Assembly in the city of Riohacha on 16 of this month, the penultimate day of negotiations.
In the morning, each negotiating team worked separately on the distinct subject areas. In the afternoon, representatives of the Administration presented a new proposal on the matters of the general system of social security and work-related risks. Reading it revealed that it would weaken not only the proposal made in our just table of petitions but even the current arrangements in our Collective Labour Agreement.
For example, one of the critical issues during the last two years of the Collective Agreement was that of allowances for Medical Treatment (article 85) which has been stretched so that the multinational Cerrejon can systematically violate the conventional agreement. In fact, a conspiracy orchestrated by the Department of Human Resources and its Medical Division, with the complicity of the EPS, the ARP, the AFP and the qualifying boards, ensured that many ill workers suspended the medical and rehabilitation treatments which they were undergoing in various cities because of the very poor health provision in La Guajira. Today it tabled a version with which it is trying to guarantee its violations, so that it can continue attacking the right to life and health of the ill workers at Cerrejon, many of them ill as a result of work-related sicknesses or work accidents. The company’s proposal carries a number of requirements which would make it impossible to access this benefit contained in the Collective Agreement.
Another clause in the convention which has been violated by the bosses during the period of its validity was the so-called “Pagos por indefinición médico laboral” which sought to ensure that in no case would ill workers go without work income because of their incapacity, even if their incapacity went on for over 180 days or when their contingency was being contested. The company’s commitment was to provide an insurance policy for this purpose or to pay salaries. In those two years, it did neither, with the sole purpose of economically dispossessing the sick and forcing them to give up their employment and join this country’s chains of misery and poverty. Little by little the army of more than 700 or 800 sick workers walking through the offices of Human Resources seeking to overcome their health problems has thus been reduced. The multinational Cerrejon now wants us to sign up to an agreement which would make access to this benefit even more difficult and which blames the worker for daring to struggle for his rights with the various parts of the social security system (EPS, ARP, AFP and qualifying boards), ‘dogsbodies’ of the transnational’s administration.
Our bosses at Carbones del Cerrejon continue to show that each one of us is merely a number, a statistic; that we only matter to them while we can get into a lorry, handle a shovel or repair a machine; that as soon as we get ill, we are a burden, a piece of rubbish. We could not hope for anything else from a multinational, which through its Manager of Human Resources published an article in the press a declaration in which he alleged that the ill workers at Cerrejon were faking their sickness, coached by their union.
With things as they are, it will be very difficult to sign the Collective Labour Agreement. More than that, after today’s session we consider that we are closer to a strike than to a negotiated agreement. Only a serious and responsible attitude on the part of the multinational could change the course of what has taken place up to today. There are more than a hundred issues to be resolved in very few days, unless the multinational’s negotiating commission believes that they came to spend the summer in Barranquilla.
The single goal of the multinational Cerrejon at this time is to immobilize the union and the right of the workers to collective negotiation for the next five long years. It has the intention of ending salary and loan increases and, with what it saves, to offer a form of bond (which will disappear in time) without impacting on salary and without protection. Cerrejon’s intention is reflected in the saying ‘money today, hunger tomorrow’.
This union will not let the transnational get away with what it wants in any way. That it has got its hands on the coal which a corrupt government handed over to it, is in itself bad; but that it should act against sick workers is criminal. And that it should wish to benefit from its workers’ lack of cash to buy their dignity in advance and then impoverish them is at the very least perverse.
We call on the workers to be on highest alert. We are in the last phases of the discussion process demanded by law. Afterwards we are doomed to move on to the forceful actions of the masses to demand our rights. Our Negotiating Team, from the first day, has been disposed to find a solution to the conflict, but if the transnational Cerrejon maintains its intransigent position, not recognizing the rights of the workers, we must defend firmly and decisively in the streets what has not been possible to achieve through proposals and ideas.
You can rely on us not to back down.
SINTRACARBON Negotiating Commission
Long live our just demands!
Long live the unity, organization and struggle of the workers of Cerrejon!
Press and Publicity Department
Calle 12ª No 11-42- Tel: 7272109- Fax: 7272965 www.sintracarbon.com – Riohacha – Guajira – Colombia/ Línea Negociación No 2559