Two unions publicly rejected the draft labor agreement signed by striking oil workers in Colombia’s eastern Meta department and the petroleum company Pacific Rubiales, W Radio reported Tuesday.
The Sindical Obrera Union (USO) and the United Workers Central (CUT) jointly spoke out against the deal, which stipulated the laborers’ return to the job in return for certain labor concessions.
Pacific Rubiales agreed to hire all unskilled laborers from the Puerto Gaitan region, build 3,000 affordable housing units, and donate $1 million to a local hospital, but union leaders said the concessions do not adequately address the needs of the poor community.
“Even though it is own of the main centers of oil production in the country, it has alarming rates of social inequality,” said a public statement signed by the USO and CUT presidents.
The union leaders demanded that the government and Pacific Rubiales “resolve the deplorable social and labor situation” in the Rubiales and Quifa oil fields.
Meanwhile, according to Caracol Radio, 500 peaceful protesters arrived in Puerto Gaitan from Bogota Monday night to continue the protest for better labor rights and to also publicly condemn the agreement.
At 9AM Tuesday, Pacific Rubiales arranged a national forum with demonstrators to hear grievances and discuss possible changes to the agreement.
The workers temporarily halted production last month when they staged protests, demanding better wages and working conditions.
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, October 10
Contract workers in the oilfields of Colombia are fighting for fair conditions and union rights with multinational sub-contractors and state-run Ecopetrol in eastern departments of the country. ICEM’s militant affiliate Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) is leading the fight on behalf of exploited contract workers and has recruited over 4,000 workers since July.
A solidarity caravan sets off today from capital Bogotá to a major rally at the Campo Rubiales oil sites. Tomorrow the caravan will hold a forum in Puerto Gaitán with discussions to cover trade union rights across the sector in Colombia and the history of the current struggle. The caravan will then spend 12 October visiting various oil fields of Puerto Gaitán. On 14 October, the alliance of national and international trade union groups will return to Bogotá and hold a large action in the capital, bringing attention to the campaign.
Contract workers cut oil production by 25% by blockading major roads in Puerto Gaitán 18-21 September and forced Colombia’s Interior Minister to the table.
The grievances aired by staff of oil service subcontractors include poverty wages, sub-standard housing, poor sanitation, poor transport, degrading treatment, all imposed on a workforce precariously employed on fixed-term contracts for two-to-three years. Conditions in workstations in the oilfields around Puerto Gaitán are described as similar to concentration camps.
The campaign has achieved recent improvement from Pacific Rubiales, the company agreed to fill 100% unskilled positions with local people, to build 3,000 housing units, and donate US$1million to a local hospital.
Significantly workers and local communities have been united in protest to great effect, targeting specifically the environmental degradation taking place, high local unemployment with many jobs not filled by area residents, and a lack of social investment in local health and education.
Guilty companies include Canadian-based Pacific Rubiales and Petrominerales, Cepcolsa, a subsidiary of Spanish-based CEPSA, and 90% state-owned Ecopetrol itself. Pacific Rubiales is funding a large disinformation campaign labeling USO trade unionists as "armed criminals, forcing work stoppages."
Canada’s Communications, Energy, Paperworkers (CEP) Union and USO have formed a united front, adding leverage against the Canadian-based multinationals.
Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (PRE), the Toronto-based oil producer that operates fields in Colombia, rose to a two-week high after the government brokered a deal between the company and workers following protests this year.
The shares rose 4.4 percent to 42,160 pesos at the close in Bogota, the highest since Sept. 22.
The accord establishes a minimum monthly salary of 1.2 million pesos ($628) for workers and contractors provides workers with at least nine days off each month and reimburses them for transportation to the work site, according to an Oct. 8 statement by Colombia’s ministry of mines and energy.
The agreement was brokered with the support of Mauricio Cardenas, who was named Sept. 20 as the country’s Minister of Mines and Energy.
“It’s a good step forward toward improving relations with workers” even as protests may continue as at least one union did not recognize the accord, said Juan David Pineros, oil sector analyst for Interbolsa SA, Colombia’s biggest brokerage. The deal will help stabilize Rubiales’ operations though it may increase operating costs, Pineros said.
The company’s workers union and Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Energetica Nacional participated in the negotiations, the statement said. Colombia’s Union Sindical Obrera, which was involved in the protests, does not recognize the accord, the union’s vice-president German Osma told RCN radio today.
The company said Sept. 21 it would resume output “gradually” at Colombia’s largest oil field after an end of protests that cut production. Rubiales holds a 40 percent stake in the Rubiales field, which it operates. Bogota-based Ecopetrol SA owns the remainder of the field.
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, September 26
Fraught by failed efforts in August to give contract workers their legitimate rights in the oilfields of south-central Colombia, Canada-based Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. and the government of Juan Manuel Santos will get a second chance to rectify the low pay, horrid work conditions, and sub-standard working terms of contract workers.
That came because ICEM affiliate Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) led 4,000 contract workers in Meta Department, Colombia, on a strike and blockade early last week that cut output of South America’s third largest oil producer by 25%. The road blockades started on 18 September and continued until 21 September in rural areas near wells in the Rubiales and Quifa oilfields and in the city of Puerto Gaitan.
The strikes were violently broken up by 300 Colombia national riot police wielding batons and pitching tear gas. Police ordered a curfew for Puerto Gaitan. The strike, however, forced a tripartite agreement on 21 September between USO, the government’s Interior minister, and Pacific Rubiales after six hours of talks.
The protocol agreement calls for a permanent arbitration board to be set up in Bogotá to address the issues of irregular workers labouring in the oilfields. Those issues include regularisation of employment, better pay and working conditions, and the right to join a union and bargaining collectively. USO, once the representative of only workers at state-run Ecopetrol, has championed the rights of contract workers in Colombia’s burgeoning oil sector. USO also is championing the re-hire of 800 contract workers who have been sacked in the recent past for trade union activity.
Last week’s accord is not the first time that a tri-partite forum was set up to address and solve these issues. In August, Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón chaired a meeting in which nine tripartite working groups made recommendations for fairness and justice. None of the submitted recommendations by the working groups were accepted by contractors or by Ecopetrol, prompting last week’s strike and blockades.
USO is intent that poverty wages, exhausting work hours, and unlimited days of consecutive work disappear from the Colombian energy landscape. Several contractors along with Pacific Rubiales exploit irregular workers in the Llanos basin and other oil-rich basins of central and eastern Colombia. Pacific Rubiales, which owns Colombian oil company Meta Petroleum, operates oilfields in eastern Meta Department jointly with Ecopetrol and has been a magnet for labour unrest over the past several months.
Two weeks ago, contract workers led by USO conducted similar strikes and blockades in Casanare department at the Corcel and Guatiquia upstream operations. Those facilities are run by another Canadian company, Petrominerales Ltd., which holds extensive Colombian production facilities both by itself and with Ecopetrol.
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, September 15Oil industry multinationals employ over 12,500 workers in the Meta Region of Colombia, mostly by outsourcing work to contractors. These precariously employed workers are subject to poverty wages, exhausting working hours including working 49 days consecutively, and other sub-standard working conditions, all in clear violation of Colombian law and international minimum standards.
Colombian Senator Robledo has described the workstations of the Puerto Gaitán oil fields as more like concentration camps, with overcrowded tents, water shortages, malnutrition, unhygienic sanitation, and degrading treatment. Oil contractor Pacific Rubiales conducts a public disinformation campaign in which it describes trade union USO as “armed criminals, forcing work stoppages”.
The fight back against this untenable situation began on 19 July with mass demonstrations and work stoppages in the Puerto Gaitán and Campo Rubiales installations. Protestors were met with violent police brutality. Key support and action has been supplied by ICEM affiliate Unión Sindical Obrera (USO), which traditionally has organised employees of Ecopetrol, Colombia’s listed state-owned oil company. Along with Ecopetrol, the contractors employing the Meta region oil workers are providing services for Canadian-based Pacific Rubiales, and CEPCOLSA, a subsidiary of Spanish-based CEPSA.
The explosion of mass protests moved the Colombian government, notoriously compliant in the repression of trade unions, to hold a tri-partite forum on 3 August, chaired by Vice-President Angelino Garzón. The forum created nine working groups to assess the various issues over 15 days and reach conclusions leading to a settlement of the conflict. Unfortunately and predictably not one recommendation of the 15-day working groups has been enacted. Instead unions have been hit with fierce persecution. Contractors MR, Intricon, and Medellín Electricians ended the employment of 70 workers who had been involved in the 19 July mobilisation. Another contractor Duflo SA instructed employees to cancel their union membership, under threat of dismissal.
The failure to implement any of the roundtable recommendations was met with protest from the local Puerto Gaitán community, who blocked all major roads leading into the municipality on 19 August. The local community’s discontent was then compounded when the oil companies began hiring new staff, without employing anybody locally.
The Ministry of Social Protection claims to have made 162 visits to the region, but has never met with USO or with the outsourced workers, and has only met with high level company officials on a handful of occasions. In a clear indication of the government’s allegiance, from September the administration of President Santos will deploy a military battalion to be stationed in the community, which will in fact have its military vehicles fuelled by the local multinationals.
Pacific Rubiales posted annual profits of US$218 million in 2010.
During this labour conflict, 4,000 workers joined USO en masse in the Meta region. In the past year, over 16,000 contract workers have joined USO throughout Colombia.