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Colombian coal workers discuss the need for a just transition

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9 November, 2022Members of Sintracarbón, IndustriALL's mining affiliate in Colombia, recently met online to highlight the need for Glencore to ensure that there is a just transition, that workers don’t lose their jobs and that it doesn’t leave a ghost town behind it.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL’s global director of mining, told the meeting that unions need to discuss what will happen when coal mines close down in Colombia. He said it is important for workers to be involved in discussions in order to demand a just transition, pointing out that IndustriALL’s new trade union guide for a just transition contains a number of practical recommendations in that regard.

Sintracarbón’s Igor Diaz said that Glencore has already relinquished the mining concessions held by Prodeco, one of its subsidiaries in Colombia, while the concessions held by Cerrejón, another Glencore subsidiary, expire in 2035. He said that Glencore had called for talks on a just transition for Prodeco workers but nothing had happened.

"We were forced to look into diversifying production techniques so that the coal workers still had employment options. The fact is that Glencore has done nothing to ensure a just transition and now 1,200 Prodeco workers no longer have jobs."

Diaz also said that Glencore is required to maintain the Prodeco mine until it is handed over to its new owners. But unfortunately, Glencore is using outsourced workers for this rather than its own employees.
He called on Glencore to sit down with the workers to discuss the closure and ensure that resources are set aside for them to be retrained.
Glencore's business model includes both the extraction and sale of raw materials. Claudia Blanco from Sintracarbón pointed out that Prodeco relinquished the mining concessions but would continue to operate the railway and port, and the union found out that Prodeco is still moving coal by boat:

"The employer representatives then admitted that they were buying coal and exporting it by boat. They confessed that they were hiring other workers to do our work, outsourcing it to people who were not entitled to the benefits secured by the union.

"Almost all unionized workers are in redundancy proceedings. It is not fair that the company wants to evade its responsibilities and refuses to hold a dialogue with the union in order to reach an agreement. Glencore clearly has double standards and is uncompromising in its discourse."

Meeting participants agreed that it was necessary to press ahead with initiatives to retrain and prepare coal workers for a just energy transition. They will continue to work on a proposal for a just transition, based on the experiences of other countries. This will enable them to push for an inclusive dialogue in talks on mine closures.
Participants also said that they would seek a dialogue with the new government to promote policies aimed at creating decent jobs to replace coal jobs and to provide incentives for companies to ensure a just transition and not leave ghost towns behind when they leave.

IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

"Colombia is in the process of creating a new society. There are discussions about the future of the economy, and we need to be part of those discussions. The trade union movement must demand a just transition that ensures high-quality jobs for workers.
Coal mining brings many challenges. It causes pollution and drives climate change, but shutting down all coal mines is not the solution. We need to make sure that Glencore is held accountable and demand fairness in the company’s operations.”