28 September, 2020Operations at the Cerrejón coal mine, owned by multinationals Glencore, BHP and Anglo American, came to a halt on 31 August when Sintarcarbón launched a strike, after rejecting a shift change that would add 72 working days per year with no wage increase.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Sintracarbón is resisting the shift change that would mean a reduction of 2,500 direct and indirect jobs. According to Igor Díaz, Sintracarbón president, the decision was made without consulting the union and is in violation of Colombian law.
"We are continuing the strike as the company has taken a firm position to remove benefits that are historically included in our collective agreement, and also wants to implement a shift system that will affect workers’ health,"
The new shift system – which workers call the “death shift” - will require workers to work an additional 72 days per year with no wage increase. Workers will move directly from day to night shifts without recovery time in a seven day cycle, with no transport home between shifts. It will disrupt family life, generate greater exhaustion and, as a result, increase workplace accidents.
The company argues that the shift change is necessary to make the mine financially sustainable, and is not subject to negotiation. According to Sintracarbón, the company is trying to reduce benefits in the collective agreement to finance the cost of compensating the workers who will be dismissed as a result of the introduction of the new shift.
The Ministry of Labour summoned the parties to open dialogue to resolve the conflict, but Cerrejón did not respond. The union is willing to engage in tripartite dialogue, but Cerrejón does not want the government to intervene.
During its meeting on 25 September, the Glencore global union network expressed solidarity with members of Sintracarbón and called on Glencore to urge Cerrejón to return to the negotiating table and seek a solution that benefits workers, the community, the company and the country.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:
“It is unacceptable that Cerrejón uses workers to reduce costs, demanding that they make huge concessions that will worsen their working conditions, including the inhuman shift change. The IndustriALL global union family supports the strike for justice, equality and dignity. Sintracarbón can count on our support to ensure justice is done in the workplace.
“In accordance with the workers’ demands, Cerrejón must return to the negotiation table to find solutions in everyone’s interest. Otherwise, IndustriALL will continue to take action vis-à-vis the company's customers and major shareholders.”
Cerrejón produces coal for export to utility companies around the world.