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Cerrejón Colombia announces change that will eliminate 1,200 jobs

30 July, 2020Carbones del Cerrejón Limited Colombia (Cerrejón) announced a change in work shifts that will lead to the loss of 1,200 jobs. The Sintracarbón trade union has condemned the coal-mining company for not consulting workers first, and for violating the current collective employment agreement.

Cerrejón’s management held a meeting on 15 July to announce its decision to modify the work shift arrangements in the mine's operational areas. This involves replacing the rotating shift pattern set out in the collective employment agreement – whereby employees work for two days and then have one day off, then work for another two days and have three days off – for a system in which employees work for seven days and then get three and then four days off, with no pay rise.

Colombian coal workers' union Sintracarbón, which is an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, stated that prior to the announcement, the company had not held any consultations or talks with workers to discuss options and the advantages and disadvantages of making this change. They believe that the new shift system will have numerous adverse effects on the personal lives and health of workers and will result in hundreds of jobs being lost.  

The change entails getting rid of one of the shift teams. This will result in a 25 per cent reduction in the workforce, meaning that 1,200 workers will be left without a job. This comes in addition to the suspension of 400 employment contracts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, creating a real employment crisis.

The shift arrangement currently in place was set up 30 years ago by a foreign expert hired by Cerrejón. Prior to that, employees had to work for six days and then had two days off. That system led to complaints and 11 unfair dismissals and also had a negative impact on production.

“We think that the new shift system, which involves working seven days in a row for the same pay, will have a real impact on workers' health. And let’s not forget that 60 per cent of Cerrejón employees are in the older category. What’s more, the new system will leave 1,200 workers without a job, so there are also social implications. We're need to fight to protect the shift system that's been set out in our collective employment agreement for the past 30 years,”

said Igor Díaz López, chair of Sintracarbón national executive committee.

Sintracarbón has said that the current shift pattern should be maintained because it means the employees perform well. Since workers get proper rest, they can keep up productivity and continue to generate substantial profits for Cerrejón.

IndustriALL's general secretary, Valter Sanches, has written to the CEO of Cerrejón, Claudia Bejarano Gutiérrez de Piñerez, calling on her to ensure Cerrejón fosters a dialogue with Sintracarbón and complies with the provisions of the current collective employment agreement.

“We urge Cerrejón to hold a meeting with workers to discuss the scope of the decision and find an alternative. Finally, we wish to reiterate how important it is to ensure that the fundamental rights of Cerrejón workers are respected.”