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Background "A strike for human dignity"

For the first time in 22 years SINTRACARBON finds itself required to stop mining work in the Cerrejon mine, which is operated by Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd, the company which has the concession for mining Colombian coal in the Department of La Guajira.

Since last November 29, when the union delivered a set of requests to the company, this union organization has sought to have Carbones del Cerrejon, which is owned by the multinationals Xstrata – Glencore, Anglo American and BHP Billiton, recognize the justice, equity and legitimacy of the union’s proposal on the topics of health and professional risks, dignity of their collaborators, equal treatment for third party workers, protection of the environment of La Guajira and respect for the communities of the region.

In the intense, direct negotiations, concerning which the union supplied  information permanently to the workers, the communications media and public opinion, the negotiating committee of the union sought to have the company recognize the conditions of the 700 workers who suffer irreversible diseases as a consequence of their work. We also ask the Company to renounce the legal battles with which it sought to avoid recognizing the work – related illnesses  of coal mining . In addition, we call attention to the inappropriate vehicles which the Company uses for transporting the workers who, after working 12 hour shifts, have to travel in urban buses slightly modified as interstate buses.Up to now Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd has refused to discuss and recognize these Constitutional rights of their  collaborators.

We workers also have encountered the resistence of the Company to respect the guarantees which the law gives us to choose the health service with which we wish to affiliate. At the present time we are required to receive the poor attention of COOMEVA, which has not invested in the health infrastructure where it provides services, nor offered respectable contracts with hospitals which provide service to this working community and its families.

From the perspective of the international agreements  signed by Colombia and recognizing that the dignity of workers is one, we the negotiators of SINTRACARBON have  demanded the improvement of working conditions for the 7,000 workers in the mine who provide services and are hired by third parties. They are denied labor rights, proper attention to their health and union rights. We reject once again that the mine pretends to say that these workers do not do fundamental labor work ; they are our companions in mining activities, maintenance and mining coordination.

Silence has been the reply of the Company to our demand in the present negotiation process that it agree  not to change the course change of the Rancheria River, which would put at risk the life of the only river of the Guajira and the lives of those thousands of persons who depend upon it. Contemporary technology permits developing methods of mining coal which do not destroy the life of the river, the environmental quality of our Department and the health of the communities.

Likewise, those of us who have been spokesmen for the 3,780 workers in this process feel frustrated because we have not received a reply of the Company to our request that its program of social responsibility be properly effective, above all in relation to the communities which are displaced from the zone of mining operations and which they suffer the loss of their sources of income and customs.

In the process of discussions in which we demonstrated our willigness to consider options, the negotiators made it possible to adjust the economic request of the workers of Cerrejon to the realities of the most profitable coal mine in the country and the perspectives of temporary reduction of the international price of coal. This attitude did not find a response by a Company which is preparing to invest  $1.3 billion dollars in technology but  does not wish to increase present labor cost by even 3%. Those labor costs now are 6.5% of the total of their income.

Instead of the transparency of a negotiating process which we are carrying out before public opinion with great seriousness, instead of our disposition for dialogue, instead of our openness to holding meetings with spokespersons of the National Government, which are not ordered by law, we members of SINTRACARBON have encountered a campaign of disparagement initiated by the Company against the negotiating Committee, with a rush to put the Government at the service of their interest and with a lack of interest in hearing and  responding to our just and humble proposals for negotiation.

As a conseqence of the failure of the negotiations with Carbones del Cerrejon and in the unappealable decision of our union to struggle for a better quality of life for the workers it represents and for communities in the vicinity of the mine and Puerto Bolivar, we find ourselves obligated to make the sacrifice of declaring a strike. During this time our familiies will suffer the reduction of their income, pressure of the officials of the Company and the worsening of their conditions of life, but they and we workers accept making this significant effort because we consider that Carbones del Cerrejon Ltd could be a model of business and social responsibility if they were to accept our proposals.

With the seriousness that characterizes us, upon the base or our democratic history, in virtue of the responsibility which the Colombian people recognize in our union organization, we declare the cessation of activities beginning at 3 p.m. today. We are confident that the Ministry of Labor will offer this working communtiy the guarantees necessary to carry out this Constitutional right which covers us as Colombians.

The Negotiating Committee
(The translations may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)

Translated by John I. Laun, a CSN Volunteer Translator)

Original in Spanish :ón,-obligado-a-decretar-la-hora-cero-de-la-huelga-en-carbones-del-cerrejón.html

A strike for human dignity

The workers of Cerrejón are preparing to make a decision to accept the pyrrhic offers of the company in response to our just set of demands, or to declare a strike which seeks to win conditions of dignity for us and our families.

From the beginning of the contract to develop the mine, one-sided conditions have been agreed to, openly contrary to our national interest y simply in order to favor the corrupt businesses of two or three high functionaries (frequently the President of the Republic and the Minister of Mines). The cost of developing the mine doubled so that the government of the day could make a “loan” to Exxon’s bank (Intercor) at the highest interest rates in the market. The rail line was rented to Carbocol [state-owned coal organization-SC] and other articles were agreed upon that would mean that when the Cerrejón was finally sold to the 3 current multinationals, we Colombians lost 13.5 billion dollars in the deal.

In 2000 the Colombian government decided to sell 50% of its shares to the multinationals for $383,000 USD. That is, each transnational company had to pay for this 50% the amount of one hundred twenty-seven million, six hundred sixty-six thousand dollars ($127,666,667 USD). Then, in the year 2001, Exxon, the owner of the other 50%, sold its shares to the same transnationals for one billion, one hundred seventeen million dollars ($1,117,000,000), nearly three times the price at which the Colombian government sold its shares; this demonstrated once again the corrupt business between government functionaries, the establishment and functionaries of the multinationals, which has brought this country to a state of misery and prostration. This time, each one of the three companies had to contribute three hundred seventy-two million, three hundred thirty three thousand dollars ($372,333,333 USD). In the end, the sale cost one billion, five hundred million dollars ($1,500,000,000 USD), with each of these firms contributing five hundred million dollars ($500,000,000).

Not content with this, these transnationals, exercising their style of looting and corruption, taking advantage of the measures imposed by the multilateral banking system, of Canadian “cooperation,” and of the para-politicans [i.e., elected officials connected to the paramilitaries as death squads are called in Colombia-SC], drafted the last 4 tax reforms, the law of judicial stability of foreign investment, and the mining code, and introduced reductions for gasoline and diesel fuel purchases from 2005 to 2010, which meant not having to pay 1.1 trillion pesos in taxes. The government authorized the deduction of the IVA [VAT] from imports and donations, eliminated from 2007 the tax of profits sent out of the country, and they give them discounts on taxes for the purchase of machinery. According to the director of the DIAN [the national taxation and customs authority-SC], they have even bought stolen machinery in order to legalize it in Colombia and take advantage of the discounts. The deduction for fixed assets meant tax discounts of 1,651,638 in 2009 and 1,817,000 in 2010 for the multinationals. It can also be seen that these companies, in addition to the deductions, enjoyed income exemptions and tax discounts, whose cost was more than 1.6 trillion pesos in 2009 and 1.8 trillion last year. The IVA is forgiven for the temporary importation of heavy machinery, there is a 5-year deferral of IVA and customs duties for permanent importation of heavy machinery for mining, and they are given the option of paying royalties OR the Industry and Commerce Tax, whichever is greater, without taking into account the origin of the tax. Article 258-2 indicates that the IVA paid for the importation of heavy machinery can be deducted from tax on profits; the government at the end of 2010 reduced the duties on importations, among them those destined for mining. If they contract technical workers, technologists or professionals, article 158-1 of the tax statute returns 175% of the investment to them. There is an equal return if they provide teachers to the workers. The tax on profits was reduced from 33 to 14%, the royalty payments are deductible from taxes, and all the costs of the “work” that the 5 “NGOs” that they own do are also deducted from their taxes. The result is that for every $100 USD they invest, the country returns $165 USD to them. Thanks to the law of judicial stability of investment, drafted by their lawyers, the para-politicians and the agencies of “cooperation,” those taxes will be maintained for them for 20 years.

The profits of the Cerrejón 

From 2006 to 2011 the company had profits of 6.9 trillion pesos ($6,981,600,450,000 COP), which is the equivalent in dollars of profits of three billion, five hundred eight million, four hundred fifty-seven thousand dollars ($3,508,457,000 USD). Analysis allows us to establish that in these six years these transnational companies have gotten profits of 2.3 trillion pesos ($2,327,153,483,000 COP) each, which is the equivalent in dollars of an average of one billion, one hundred sixty-nine million, four hundred eight-five thousand dollars ($1,169,485,464); So it is easy to deduce that what was invested in the purchase of Cerrejón by these multinationals has now been recovered many times over.

The situation of the workers

The conditions of the workers are serious. They earn between 7 and 8 times less that any miner in the sector (one example is the that a European miner earns on average 230,000 euros/year; a Colombian who is doing well and working twelve hours on day and night shifts earns on average between 10,000 and 15,000 euros/year). The total labor costs of the mining workers in the Cerrejón amount to merely 6.8% of the company’s costs.

Despite the mining industry’s being a high risk one, the Cerrejón does not recognize that or pay their workers the high risk pension. They even change the name of the pump operators (because legally they are obliged to pay the high risk pension) in order to make a mockery of what was decided in the previous collective bargaining agreement. This is true despite the fact that their lawyers developed the legislation for protection from work-related risks in this sector, and excluded open-pit mines as areas of high risk. We have more than 700 workers sick in the mine, especially with pathologies related to inhaling carbon dust (silicoanthracosis); there is a dark handling of social security that makes all the workers enter the obligatory health plan (P.O.S.) financed by the state and the workers, charging for prepaid medicine. The result is that medical service for the workers ends up being free for the company. The work-related risk company (hired by Cerrejón) never finds a professional illness (produced by the miner’s work), but always classifies it as a common illness, in order to avoid indemnifying or giving a pension to the worker, who ends up being fired, ill and with serious consequences for him and his family,

Wealth for the transnationals, misery and violence for our people.

La Guajira, 30 years after the coal mining [began], continues to be the 6th poorest department in the country, with one of the country’s highest indices of misery and malnutrition. In access to education, it is lower than Cesar and Córdoba. Only 48.1% of the population have their own house and 52% of the households only manage to cover the most basic daily necessities. If we extend this to the whole country, despite the statistical maneuvers of this government, more than 60% of the population is still in poverty and 70% of the work force received the minimum wage or less. The region has one of the highest indices of forced displacement, of victims of the social and armed conflict that was concentrated in this area in the last 30 years. This was a product of the great mining and energy resources and a good infrastructure of ports that guarantee the rapid plundering of our resources. And as if there was anything missing, this company is being accused of using the [army] battalion and a group of paramilitaries or death squads to carry out the massacre of 8 native Wayuu people in Bahia Portete, in the area where their port was extended in 2004.

If they drive us to strike, we will go on a triumphant strike!!!

In the face of the miserable and disrespectful offers of the Cerrejón, we call on the workers, on the Afro-descended and indigenous communities of La Guajira, on the social movements, on Colombian society in general, to defend our national sovereignty over our natural resources with the dignity of combatants, so that those colossal profits will be distributed for all Colombians, so that our children will not go on dying of hunger and malnutrition and so that we workers will have a dignified life for ourselves and our families. Let this strike be a call to our country and our continent that neocolonialism, crime and plunder should stop, and that our natural resources should be nationalized.



[SINTRACARBON-National Union of Coal Workers; FUNTRAENERGETCIA-Unified Federation of Mining, Energy, Metallurgical, Chemical and Similar Industries; C.U.T.-Unified Labor Federation of Colombia-SC]]

(This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)

(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN Volunteer Translator)