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Sintracarbón, Colombian Unions Make Big Strides in Organising Against Outsourcing

7 March, 2012

Sintracarbón at Carbones del Cerrejón is held up as a strong example of positive industrial relations, with tough collective bargaining achieving considerable protections for 4,000 direct employees at Colombia’s largest coal mines, and stable communications channels between workers and management.  Sintracarbón’s fight now is over the basic rights of outsourced contract workers at the largest set of coal mines in the world, a joint venture of three multinational mining conglomerates, BHP Billiton, Xstrata and AngloAmerican.

First adopting a policy to fight outsourcing in 2008, Sintracarbón’s initial research noted the strategic policies of multinational corporations (MNCs) to increasingly outsource employment and weaken workers’ job security, social benefits, wage levels, and ability to organise and bargain collectively. 

The research also discovered that over 50% of workers at MNCs operating in Colombia are employed through contract companies, and that these workers had considerably lower standards of employment and no collective agreements.  Almost every attempt by Contract or Agency Labour (CAL) workers to reach a collective agreement in Colombia prior to 2008 had been met with mass dismissals.


At Cerrejón, 6,000 of the total 11,000 workers are precariously employed by contractors.  In the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, Sintracarbón achieved a clause stating that Carbones del Cerrejón management is “committed to ensuring respect for the unionisation of all workers, including CAL workers.”

The first attempt to organise CAL workers, in 2010, was at the company that provides transportation to the mine workers, SOTRANS.  The effort of 500 members of SINTRANS was crushed with mass dismissals and harassment.

The second attempt was at Chaneme, a company conducting maintenance of heavy machinery.  This effort was successful and 50 workers remain under a CBA as members of Sintrachaneme.

Through Sinaltrainal, a national union, employees of food supplier Aramark won a collective agreement for 200 workers in March 2011.

Over recent months, mechanics at EPROFQ and ASEOCOLBA also have won struggles and achieved collective agreements.  In the case, of EPROFQ the convention was signed after an eight-day strike.

ICEM affiliates at glass supplier Ross and at Prodeco have also won victories over short-term, casual employment, bringing the total to 1,560 CAL workers organised in Colombia in ICEM sectors.