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Sintracarbón signs agreement with Cerrejón to end historic strike

3 December, 2020The Sintracarbón union and Colombian company Cerrejón have signed a new collective employment agreement, ensuring that workers get to keep their benefits. The agreement brought an end to the longest strike in the mine’s history.

Colombian coal workers' union Sintracarbón, which is an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, and Cerrejón, a mining company owned by the multinationals Glencore, BHP and Anglo American, signed a collective employment agreement on the evening of 30 November, bringing an end to a dispute that had lasted 91 days.

Igor Díaz, president of Sintracarbón, said:

“We've put up a good fight against the three multinationals, who were dead set on implementing a business strategy that went against their workers' interests. Luckily, they didn't succeed, and our collective agreement remains intact.

I'd like to thank IndustriALL, its affiliates FNV, SASK, USW, IG BCE and CUT and all the other organizations that have shown solidarity and provided financial support. This wasn't a fight by Sintracarbón alone but by the whole union movement – it was a real show of international unity.”

Sintracarbón says that the new agreement meets its key demand, which was that workers get to keep the same benefits as before. The main features of the three-year agreement are as follows:

  • 100 employment contracts will be turned into permanent contracts
  • Wages will be inflation-adjusted throughout the term of the agreement
  • 700 living allowances will be awarded
  • Allowances for medical expenses, school, education and so on will be readjusted for inflation
  • Christmas bonuses and vacations will continue to be treated as wages
  • Daily transport in Guajira, Valledupar and Barranquilla will continue to be offered

Both the company and the union had previously taken steps to try and resolve the dispute. To start with, talks were held between the two parties over a 60-day period. Several meetings then took place with the Committee for the Concertation of Wage and Labour Policies (CCPSL) and the ombudsman's office acting as mediators.

Lastly, to avoid bringing the dispute before an arbitral tribunal at the employment ministry, the two sides opted to continue their negotiations. After six days, they agreed on the new collective employment agreement.

They also agreed to hold talks over a 30-day period to address another sticking point: the shift change proposed by the company, which would result in what the union refers to as a "shift of death". Sintracarbón has said that even though the strike has ended, it will fight to ensure that the new shift system is not implemented, as it would impact workers' health and wipe out 1,250 jobs.

IndustriALL assistant secretary general Kemal Özkan said:

“With their 90-day strike, Sintracarbón and its members have put up a historic and exemplary fight. They fought for their dignity, their rights and their future, and they achieved justice. They should be applauded for their heroic battle.

“Led by Sintracarbón, we came together as a global union movement to support our colleagues on strike at Cerrejón. The strike showed that international solidarity is of utmost importance, especially when so many of our affiliates are going through tough times – the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the mining sector particularly hard. Thank you to everyone who supported Sintracarbón during this time.”