Interfax has a clear, complete report on what reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev and I saw in the Colombian llanos two weeks ago. I have written to Pacific Rubiales requesting comment on the story and will update this post if they get in touch. From Interfax:
What can you do as a large oil and gas company plagued by labour unrest? You can either settle with the workers’ representatives or factor industrial disruption into your business plan. But Pacific Rubiales, Colombia’s largest private oil company developing the country’s first LNG export terminal, has come up with a third way: invite another labour syndicate that does not advocate direct action to sign up members from the existing union…
By August 2011 Pacific was ready to negotiate, but not with USO. Wildcat understands the union’s dogmatic socialism is an anathema to the company’s Venezuelan founders Ronald Pantin and José Francisco Arata who, along with a dozen other Pacific executives, came to Colombia to escape the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ of neighbouring President Hugo Chávez.
Instead, Pacific employees invited Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Energética Nacional (UTEN), a business-friendly electricity union with four years of history and no prior oil experience. UTEN subscribed more than 1,000 Pacific workers in October 2011 and at the end of July this year claimed 5,050 affiliates in the company and its contractors. UTEN’s mission is to “propose and not protest”, according to its founder Alex Ortiz.
Meanwhile, USO disappeared from Rubiales. “UTEN appeared out of thin air on the company’s invitation and immediately reached an agreement with Pacific, taking our proposals and presenting them as their achievements,” said USO President Rodolfo Vecino. “We were outmanoeuvred,” he told Wildcat, sitting underneath a psychedelic painting of Che Guevara in his Bogotá office. USO claims around 5,000 of its members at Rubiales were dismissed or did not have their contracts renewed following last year’s protests.
Foto: UTEN workers at their office