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Sintracarbón announces possible strike action at Cerrejón Colombia

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20 March, 2020The national union of workers in the coal industry (Sintracarbón, which is affiliated to IndustriALL in Colombia) voted in favour of a strike at the multinational Cerrejón 50 days after failing to reach an agreement in the negotiations to renew the current collective agreement.

“With a vote strongly in favour of industrial action, the members of the Sintracarbón union have just declared a strike at Carbones del Cerrejón Limited, owned by the multinationals Glencore, Anglo American and BHP”, the union announced in an official message on 16 March as it was counting the final ballots.

The union added that 3,586 members voted in favour of the strike. Only 25 workers said that they preferred to settle differences with the company through a court of arbitration.

Talks aimed at reaching a direct settlement as part of the collective bargaining process with Cerrejón began on 27 Janaury and ended on 6 March. Sintracarbón explained that before Cerrejón had tabled its first offer, the union's negotiating commission had already agreed to modify its list of demands. However, the company refused to change its original position.

As a result, negotiations reached a critical point at which stage it was decided to call a general assembly in order to vote on whether or not to hold a strike. The vast majority of workers came out in favour of industrial action because they believed that the company intends to reduce, eliminate and freeze the benefits provided in the current collective bargaining agreement.

Igor Diaz, the president of Sintracarbón, had the following to say:

“The strike will go ahead if we don't get a positive response to our demands from Cerrejón. We expect them to come to the negotiation table with a proposal that will significantly improving miners' working conditions. If they don't, the responsibility for the strike will be theirs entirely.”

The strike will be organized jointly with a second union called Sintracerrejón whose members also voted in favour of strike action. The two organizations have agreed that within the next ten days they will decide on the time when all their members go on strike. During this time, the company and the workers' representatives will continue to hold meetings in order to make an honest attempt at settling their differences and reach an agreement which would allow the strike to be called off.

For his part, Marino Vani, regional secretary of IndustriALL Global Union for Latin America, said:

“We congratulate our fellow workers, their families and the leaders of Sintracarbón for their show of unity, and their commitment to defend and value jobs.  We are following your struggle very closely and are mobilizing to promote international solidarity throughout the entire coal production and distribution chain.

We ask the company to reconsider its offer and to seek conciliation rather than confrontation and the imposition of a settlement. I know what the workers are thinking: they want you to stop taking advantage of the very people who generate your profits.”