The union representing workers at Cerrejón has attended all scheduled negotiating meetings and has conducted itself in a respectful manner. The company has broken off talks but the union remains open to reaching an agreement.
Talks to end the strike at Carbones del Cerrejón, which started at the beginning of February, are at a standstill. Sintracarbón said that negotiations took place on Friday 15, Saturday 16 and the morning of Sunday 17 February, but then stalled because union representatives were not willing to override legal provisions and refer the dispute to arbitration, which annoyed representatives of Carbones del Cerrejón Limited.
The union expected talks with the company would resume on Sunday afternoon, but around 4.30pm, union representatives received a press release stating that talks had been suspended. On Monday 18 February, union representatives waited three hours until they received a telephone call from the Deputy Minister of Labour, José Noé Ríos, who told them that company representatives would not be attending.
In response, Sintracarbón issued a communiqué saying "we believe in our company, we believe in Carbones del Cerrejón Limited and we have always acted responsibly: this should be more than enough to encourage us to resolve our differences and reach agreement on a collective agreement negotiated by the people who really know the company”.
Pay is not the top priority. The workers want an agreement that recognises their position on occupational health issues. They say the company must accept that "the 700 workers suffering from silicosis, lead poisoning and severe musculoskeletal injuries acquired these conditions at work and that workers need appropriate protection from the work hazards encountered when working with substances like coal”.
They are also demanding permanent contracts for the outsourced workers who work alongside them and starting pay of at least two minimum wages, adjusted in accordance with the conditions and demands of their work for workers who continue to be employed on an informal basis.
The workers, who have set up temporary accommodation in tents outside the plant, were visited by representatives of the Columbia IndustriALL National Council (Sintraelecol, Uso, Sintravidricol, Utrammicol, Fetramecol, Sintragasquimed, Fenaltec, Sintracadena, Sintracarcol and Sintracarbon) who expressed their national and international solidarity.
Sintracarbón reaffirmed that it “continues open to talks and remains at the negotiating table for the good of Colombia, Guajira, the company's workers and the company itself”.