Colombian coal workers still “actively committed” to strike

3 October 2020 

Members of the Sintracarbón workers’ union have been on strike from the Cerrejón Coal Company in Colombia for the past month and are still “actively committed”, according to the union’s president.  

The controversial mining company has exported coal to Ireland for use at the Moneypoint power station, and earlier this year Christian Aid Ireland accused the ESB of being complicit in human rights abuses in Colombia by having imported the solid fuel from the mine.

The report also claims that Ireland’s low corporate tax rate has facilitated the owners of the Cerrejón mine to potentially avoid millions in tax by using a Dublin-based company to handle global sales of its product. The corporation tax in Colombia, by comparison, is 34 per cent.  

5,500 workers are employed by Cerrejón, 4,600 of which are members of the Sintracarbón’s workers union. 

The union warned that Cerrejón was attempting to reduce the workforce by a quarter, impose potentially dangerous new shift patterns, and reduce, or end, several employee benefits. 

On 15 July, according to the union, the mine attempted to introduce a new shift pattern which workers have dubbed “The Death Shift” as its conditions would lead to increased fatigue which would impact safety standards, limit the amount of time workers can spend with their families, and is linked to the laying off of over 1200 workers. 

In addition to this, the union adds, Cerrejón is looking to move towards indefinite term contracts for workers, reduce Christmas bonuses and salary increases for productivity, and freeze health insurance plans at 2019 levels. 

Following months of negotiations with Cerrejón, the union decided to take a strike action and 99 per cent of its membership voted in favour. 

“Cerrejón wants to eliminate the historical achievements of the Union. The negotiation needs to be progressive, meaning that what has been achieved is respected and what is negotiated is what needs to be improved,” Sintracarbón President Igor Diaz said.

“That is the discussion, but Cerrejón is focusing only on decreasing the benefits to the workers,” he added. 

The workers are “actively committed” 

Speaking to The Green News earlier this week, Igor Diaz said that workers are still “actively committed” to the strike as it continues.

“They are positioned in tents or camps located at the entrances of the mine and the port, resisting to defend our rights, the right to work, and calling for the non-application of the Death Shift,” Mr. Diaz said. 

The company has shown “little interest in dialogue”, he told The Green News, and they have not responded to the government’s calls to do so. 

“The company maintains a rigid position” despite workers “being willing to sit down and look for alternatives to solve the conflict”, he said. 

The history of the mine’s imports to Ireland 

The Cerrejón complex spans over 700 kilometres, impacting over 300,000 people across a 200-kilometer stretch of the impoverished state of La Guajira, home to a large indigenous population. 

According to Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) requests, two-thirds of the 12.5 million tonnes of coal imported between January 2011 and March 2018 came from Cerrejón. 

The ESB said in a statement that it has not received any coal from Cerrejón since 2018. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson