BOGOTA, Colombia, July 12, 2013 /CNW Telbec/ - Representatives of Canadian and Quebec's civil society organizations are in Colombia this week as part of a delegation to support and observe a popular hearing on the actions of Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales Energy in Colombia. The hearing is part of the more expansive Popular Tribunal on Extractive Policies in Colombia, organized by Colombian social organizations, including the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO), the national oil workers union.
Pacific Rubiales Energy is the largest foreign oil company in Colombia. It produces 40% of the crude oil in Colombia and employs 15,000 workers. Over 90% of of their employees are subcontracted and work for salaries below the oil industry minimum in Colombia. Since 2011 the company has been embroiled in a conflict with its workers and the communities living near the oil fields. In September 2011, Pacific Rubiales and the USO signed an agreement in the presence of the Canadian ambassy. The company never respected the agreement.
In December 2012, a subcontractor working for Pacific Rubiales and who had been working to organizer workers received a death threat and was later assassinated. The circumstances of his death suggest that the murder was related to his union activities. The company has also created a list of USO-affiliated workers in order to bar them from working in the region.
Despite this, the Canadian government has refused to intervene further in the labour dispute. Amir Khadir, a Quebec opposition Members of the National Assembly who participate in the delegation, has denounced this silence, arguing that the company's behaviour is damaging Canada's reputation in Colombia.
Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada (CEP), is participating in the delegation. "Pacific Rubiales has created a violent conflict, in which worker activists not only face threats and violence, but have paid with their lives," says Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Canada's largest energy union. "This is a black mark against Canada and the entire Canadian extractive industry," he says, calling on politicians to "take their heads out of the sand and take action by calling for a moratorium on all extraction concessions in Colombia until the country revamps its policies. As it stands now, extractive companies are exploiting workers and the environment in the blind pursuit of profits."
The hearing will take place from July 13-14 in Puerto Gaitan, Colombia, near the oil fields where Pacific Rubiales operates. Workers and local residents will testify about their experiences with the company. The Canadian embassy declined an invitation to participate.
"When the Canadian government signed the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement it also signed an accord concerning labour. The labour agreement stipulates that each country must incorporate and protect fundamental labour rights like the freedom of association and the right to collectively negotiate, including the right to strike. However, since the agreements took effect, the human rights situation in Colombia has not changed. At the same time, a Canadian company -- the largest foreign oil producer in the country -- has been in the middle of a two-year long labour conflict. What is our government doing about it?" asked member of the delegation Guy Martin of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a Quebec union.
"On top of a lack of respect for workers' rights, sources on the ground have reported violations of the economic, social and cultural rights of local indigenous communities. These groups will also be present as witnesses during the hearing," said another member of the delegation Terry-Lynn Brant of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
"The witnesses can be vulnerable to threats before, during and after the hearing. That's why a Canadian delegation is so important: to lend visibility to this popular process, and to assure the security of witnesses," added Constance Vaudrin of the Americas Policy Group (APG).
The final session of the Popular Tribunal will take place from August 16-18, 2013 in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Members of the Canadian delegation will hold a press conference in Montreal following the closing session in order to share the conclusions with the Canadian public.
The Canadian delegation is made up of nine organizations: Québec Solidaire, Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Americas Policy Group (APG), Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), CASA - Toronto (Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance), the Comittee for the human rights in America latina (CDHAL) and Project Accompaniment and Solidarity with Colombia (PASC).