21 March, 2016After 62 days of difficult negotiations, the Colombian coal workers’ union Sintracarbón has reached an agreement at Cerrejón that recognizes the contribution made day in and day out by the 13,000 workers employed at the mine.
The two-year deal, sealed on 15 March, includes a wage increase as well as improvements in health, education, and other benefits. Cerrejón, one of the largest coalmines in the world, is a joint venture between Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore.
Early in the negotiations Cerrejón used the excuse of falling commodity prices to make a ‘final offer’ that demanded significant concessions from workers in terms of union rights, health and other benefits
At the beginning of March, 98.3 per cent of union members voted in favour of strike action unless an agreement was reached at the bargaining table. The union grew even stronger and more united as the conflict wore on, signing 300 new members during this period.
Union President Jairo Quiroz says that the union’s mobilizing strength, the legitimacy of its demands as well as the unwavering support of its members and of the wider community all contributed to the victory. Sintracarbón has thanked IndustriALL Global Union and its mining affiliates for the international solidarity shown during the bargaining conflict.
Meanwhile, the struggle to ensure a fair deal for workers and communities continues. Just two days after signing the agreement, Sintracarbón and its members took to the streets as part of a broad-based nation-wide day of protest supported by unions, indigenous groups, students and others. “How is it possible that in resource-rich region of La Guajira, home to Cerrejón, children are dying of malnutrition?” says SIntracarbón. “We demand that La Guajira be seen through a different lens and that these issues be addressed urgently."