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29 October, 2021In mid-October, the Colombian coal workers' union Sintracarbón held a meeting with unions in Spain and South Africa to explore concrete ways to ensure a just energy transition.
Following the collapse of international markets, the situation at Cerrejón, a mining company owned by the multinational Glencore, has become very difficult. The union is now working to foster a dialogue with the company, the government and local communities about the future of the coal mine.
Sintracarbón has around 5,000 members at Cerrejón, the world's largest open-pit coal mine, and Prodeco, which is also owned by Glencore.
Sintracarbón's president, Igor Díaz, said:
"There's no one-size-fits-all solution. You have to take account of what’s happening on the ground in each country. But we can learn a lot from unions that have had similar experiences in other countries. We know that we're going to have to fight to ensure that workers' voices are heard in this process, and we want to be well prepared."
At the meeting, participants spoke about the shutdown of coal mines and thermal power plants in Spain, and the leaders of Spain's Federation of Industry, Construction and Agriculture Workers (UGT-FICA) highlighted the importance of thinking ahead. Ambrosio Arias said:
"It's not easy to get everyone around the same table to find local solutions each time a mine or thermal power plant is shut down. They're complicated processes, but thinking ahead is key. We can't stress that enough."
Martin Kaggwa, from the National Union of Mineworkers' Sam Tambani Research Institute (SATRI) in South Africa, added:
"The energy transition is inevitable. But what we can't be so sure about is whether it will be a just transition. To ensure that it is, we need a structured approach, and we need to ask the right questions. Does coal have a future in the energy mix? What other options are there? What jobs will be created and where will they be located? How do we ensure that no worker is left behind? What role does technology play in the energy transition?"
At the end of the meeting, IndustriALL's assistant secretary general, Kemal Özkan, spoke about the role that multinationals should play:
"These companies come to Colombia to exploit the country's natural resources and its workers. They need to sit down with us so that we can reach an agreement on what the fundamental principles of a just transition are."