17 October 2011

Two days before the departure of the Humanitarian Convoy, coordinated by the Worker’s Trade Union (USO) and the Central Confederation of Workers (CUT) with participation of 60 Colombian social organizations and an international trade union delegation1, the Colombian minister of Mines and Energy Mauricio Cárdenas and the Vice-President of Pacific Rubiales announced they had reached a union agreement to put an end to the labour dispute in the oil fields of Puerto Gaítan and Campo Rubiales (department of Meta). 2

 

According to the USO “It is a unilateral measure designed to distract public opinion from the real issues.”i “The company achieved the ‘alleged accord’ in just a few days by subverting an earlier set of assurances Pacific Rubiales offered the USO and the government with the aim of restoring full production in Puerto Gaitan,” said USO chief Rodolfo Vecinoii. During his speech at the Senate Chamber, Senator Jorge Enrique of the Polo Democratico, accused the Minister of Mines and the Vice-President of not respecting their prior commitments to the USO, which represents the workers in their labour dispute. The “agreement” of which the government speaks does not resolve any of the demands made by the 12 000 workers during the previous negotiating tables. The new agreement was signed by a trade union whose representatives are closely connected to the government, and represents only one sector of the company, the administrative personnel, the Senator declared.iii Last month, Mr Robledo had also denounced the public disinformation campaign conducted by Pacific Rubiales in which it described the USO trade union as “armed criminals, forcing work stoppages”.iv

 

In fact, this new Trade Union, the Unión de Trabajadores de Energía Nacional y Servicios Petroleros y Domiciliarios (Uten), is comprised of 700 administration employees hired directly by Pacific Rubiales between the 4th and 6th of October, before forming the new agreement on the October 7th. However, the labor dispute that has lasted since July 2011 concerns about 12,000 subcontracted workers of which over 5,000 are affiliated with the USO.v According to Edwin Sanchez, an ex-subcontracted worker, “the labour conditions of subcontracted workers lay at the heart of the labour dispute (…) Workers slept in tents for weeks on end with no sanitary facilities. Furthermore, workers were routinely employed on one month contracts, and were then sent home wondering if it would be renewed the next month. In Campo Rubiales we were 14 000 employees, there are now 2800. [Since the beginning of the labour dispute], they keep on renewing contracts, as in my own case... “. vi

 

During the unions’ roundtables and negotiations with local communities (in August 2011), concluded in a settlement between the USO and Pacific Rubiales, with grievances including poverty wages, sub-standard housing (in Campo Rubiales, the 240 workers are packed together in roughly-made tents), poor sanitation, poor transport, degrading treatment, all imposed on a workforce precariously employed on 28-day contracts. Furthermore, the affected communities' demands were specifically targeting the environmental degradation taking place, high local unemployment with many jobs not filled by area residents, and a lack of social investment in local infrastructures. The members of the Caravan reminded that the Canadian company had until the 21st of October to concretize its engagements.

 

The denunciations documented during the various assemblies organized by the Caravan with the workers and the affected communities will be handed to the Colombian Parliamentary Congress and to the International Labour Organization (ILO). In addition to the absence of a solution to the extreme precarity of the 12 000 subcontracted workers, the following denunciations were brought by the peasant communities:

 

  • Absence of investments in infrastructures and social services

Concerning the high rentability of Pacific Rubiales's operations in Colombia (annual profits of US$218 million in 2010vii), Henry Jara, regional president of the USO for the Meta department, explains that it is “a lot of money that has not be seen in social investments nor in the salaries.” viii During the assembly that was held in the village of Rubiales, the members of the community indicated that “the Canadian company is not keeping its promise to offer a solution to the public service problems such as access to electricity, to the aqueduct and to housing (…) problems which are extremely urgent.” ix


 

  • Public health problems caused by water and air contamination

During a meeting held by the inhabitants of Porvenir village, the participants have denounced that “the problem with the air quality is suffocating because [we permanently breathe] dust” x The members of the indigenous communities expressed the same conclusion, stating that “the children are the main victims of the [contaminated] water seepage and that the surrounding dust causes respiratory and skin diseases.” They also stated that those health problems were presented to the administration of Pacific Rubiales, but they yet have not given any answer. xi


 

  • The Canadian oil company prevents the free movement of the inhabitants on their own territory by blocking public roads

 

During the assembly that was held in Puerto Triunfo, the population denounced the “degrading treatment from part of the Pacific Rubiales multinational company, to which they have to ask permission to travel to their places of residence.” xii The members of indigenous communities neighbouring the oil fields of Campo Rubiales raised that “their population is particularly vulnerable because during the access controls [imposed by the private guards of the Canadian company, these guards] say that they do not know them and deny them the access to their own territory.” xiii

 

Henry Jara, regional president of the USO for the Meta department, notes however that the Canadian company was able to improve its public image because it temporally removed the barricades and the 700 members of the riot police, ESMAD, that habitually patrol its properties were invisible during the visit of the Convoy.xiv We note, however, that the members of the Convoy ran into a barricade made by Pacific Rubiales, consisting of a trench and a 6 foot-tall and 300 meter-wide metallic fence.xv

 

In short, in the press release sent by the USO and the CUT replying to the announcement of the new agreement signed by Pacific Rubiales and the new trade union UTEN, the Unions demanded that the government and Pacific Rubiales “resolve the deplorable social and labor situation” in the Rubiales and Quifa oil fields. “Even though it is one of the main centers of oil production in the country, it has alarming rates of social inequality”. xvi They call upon the National Government and the Canadian company to respect the agreement concluded on September 30th.

 

Notes :

1Among the members of the Humanitarian Convoy, there were delegates from : Asociación Nacional Sindical de Trabajadores y Servidores Públicos de la Salud, Seguridad Social, Integral y Servicios Complementarios de Colombia (ANTHOC), Sindicato de Trabajadores y Empleados de Servicios Públicos, Organización Colombiana de Pensionados, la Escuela Sindical María Cano, Corporaciones Autónomas, Institutos Descentralizados y Territoriales de Colombia (SINTRAEMSDES), etc. The international delegation was composed of delegates from the International Trade Union Confederation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the World Federation of Trade Unions.

2Pacific Rubiales announced that it would hire local people to fill the unskilled positions at the Puerto Gaitan oilfield, donate $1 million to a hospital serving the people of Puerto Gaitan, and build 3,000 new housing units. See : http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/economy/19420-pacific-rubiales-in-deal-to-hire-colombian-workers.html

Sources :
i« Still No Agreement For Subcontracted Workers in Rubiales ». Justice for Colombia, October 12 2011. http://www.justiceforcolombia.org/news/article/1110/still-no-agreement-for-subcontracted-workers-in-rubiales
ii« Colombian, int'l labor activists battle oil company » Futures and Commodity Market News, Bogota, October 10, 2011 (EFE via COMTEX) http://futures.tradingcharts.com/news/futures/Colombian__int_l_labor_activists_battle_oil_company_166248432.html
iii « En Rubiales, el gobierno incumple el acuerdo suscrito con la CUT y la USO, con el vicepresidente Garzón de garante
", USO, October 13 2011 . http://www.usofrenteobrero.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2721:en-rubiales-el-gobierno-incumple-el-acuerdo-suscrito-con-la-cut-y-la-uso-con-el-vicepresidente-garzon-de-garante&catid=43:boletin-junta
iv« Colombian Oil Workers Fight Back Against Mass Persecution », International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, September 15 2011. http://www.icem.org/index.php?id=217&la=EN&doc=4661
vi « Edwin Sánchez, ex trabajador en Campo Rubiales: "Nosotros venimos a vender nuestra fuerza de trabajo, pero no nuestra dignidad"», Notiagen, October 11 2011 . http://notiagen.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/edwin-sanchez-ex-trabajador-en-campo-rubiales-%C2%ABnosotros-venimos-a-vender-nuestra-fuerza-de-trabajo-pero-no-nuestra-dignidad%C2%BB/
vii« Colombian Oil Workers Fight Back Against Mass Persecution » International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, September 15 2011, http://www.icem.org/index.php?id=217&la=EN&doc=4661
viii« El primer día de la Acción Humanitaria y Laboral a Puerto Gaitán es una aclaración ... » op.cit.
ix« La Caravana Humanitaria y Laboral finaliza su jornada en Campo Rubiales reunida con los trabajadores en el lugar donde tienen sus carpas. », Notiagen, October 13 2011. https://notiagen.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/actualizacion-13-octubre-10-y-15-de-la-manana-caravana-de-accion-humanitaria-y-laboral-entra-a-campo-rubiales/
x« La Caravana Humanitaria y Laboral finaliza su jornada... » op.cit.
xii« Caravana Humanitaria llega a Puerto Triunfo » op. cit.
xiii« La Caravana Humanitaria y Laboral finaliza su jornada ... » op.cit.
xiv« La Caravana Humanitaria y Laboral finaliza su jornada ... » op.cit.
xviCommunicado de prensa. USO, CUT. op.cit.

 


September 17th : Support for the Humanitarian Convoy

Following the violent repression of the protest movement led by the Colombians workers of the Canadian Oil Company Pacific Rubiales Energy and the refusal of the Canadian company to take into consideration the social demands of affected communities and to allow unionization of its employees,  an humanitarian convoy is being organized to visit the workers and mobilize international supports.

 

Before the eminent risk of repression (protesters seriously injured, death threats against trade unionists, etc.), the PASC invites you to show your support for this Humanitarian Convoy which will be hold from October 10th to October 14th in the area of ​​Puerto Gaitan, Department of Meta - Colombia. We invite invite canadian citizen to complete the following form online: Support to humanitarian convoy.

 

In addition, we believe that strong support from Canadian unions and NGO will have a positive impact on the labor conflict and will not only force the negotiations with the Canadian company but also in the short term, protect human lives currently in danger. That is why we are collecting signatures for a Joint Letter to be sent to the Canadian Embassy with copy to Colombian authorities and Pacific Rubiales Energy to demonstrate support to this humanitarian convoy. Endorsments must be confirmed before October 6 so that je letter can ben sent no later than Friday, October 7. Please contact us  if your organization would like to express his support for this Joint Letter.

 

PUERTO GAÍTAN, META, COLOMBIA : MAIN COLOMBIAN REGION FOR OIL PRODUCTION

Puerto Gaitan is a city of Villavicencio, capital of Meta department, this is the first region of Colombia in terms of oil production. Three foreign companies are present including the Canadian Pacific Rubiales Energy, registered at the Toronto Stock Exchange and headquartered in Toronto, Canada. This Canadian company operates oil fields "Campo Rubiales" and "Quifa" (Puerto Gaitán), in association with Ecopetrol, where approximately 13 000 employees work. These employees have no job stability, they are subjected to up to 18 hours of work a day, up to 40 days without a day off (when the regulations governing the oil industry provides seven day off for 21 working days) and only receive one quarter of the wage rate of oil workers in Colombia. In addition, the use of subcontracting prevents unionization of workers.


The oil industry is the main source of income in the region and for six years now the inhabitants of Puerto Gaitan have been demanding that their requests be considered ecologically (reduction of ecological damage due to oil), socially (local hiring standards, infrastructure investments, etc.) and regarding their working conditions (compliance with Colombian labor law, union rights, etc.).

 

CURRENT LABOR CONFLICT

 

The labor conflict escalated recently when 1100 employees, subcontractors for the Spanish oil company Cepcolsa (June 20th, 2011) and 6000 employees, subcontractors for the Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales (July 18th , 2011) declared themselves in " Permanent Assembly " to mobilize local communities and workers around their social and union demands. The workers requested the National Union of Petroleum Workers: Union Sindical Obrera (USO) to represent them before the companies.


 

VIOLENT REPRESION OF SOCIAL PROTEST AND DEATH THREATS TO TRADE UNIONIST

Despite signing an agreement between the union USO and the national government to establish the negotiating table, the peaceful demonstrations of workers and residents were violently repressed, leaving about fifty wounded. The oil companies have fired more than 500 employees suspected of union activities and union leaders in the region have received death threats.

September 20, 2011 the national government ordered the Army and National Police to disperse the movement by force. Note that the civil mobilisation included children and the elderly. The Army and National Police nevertheless used stun grenades modified with shrapnel, tear gas and rubber bullets (which projectiles were launched by staff on the ground near the demonstrators but also by helicopters flying over demonstrations). The Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales has since blocked the public road between the town of Puerto Gaitan and the oil fields of "Campo Rubiales", preventing the free circulation of people within their own territory.

 

THE HUMANITARIAN CONVOY (From October 10th to 14th, Puerto Gaitan)

 

The refusal of the Canadian company to negotiate in good faith and to attend forums for dialogue with affected communities but also du to the deliberate violation of human rights and trade union garantees, the USO, in collaboration with other Colombian trade unions and social organizations , is organizing a convoy between October 10th and October 14th of 2011 in order to break the blockade imposed by the Canadian company and the security forces and provide support to the social movement of workers and affected communities.

 

The convoy is being organized by: Workers' Trade Union (USO), the Single Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CUT), the Colombian union FUNTRAENERGETICA and NGOs and social organizations in Colombia following: Corporación Aury Sara Marrugo, AFL-CIO, FSM , ICEM, ACVC, CREDHOS, PERIODICO DESDE ABAJO, FLCM, CRONOPIOS

 

The Convoy's objectives are :

 

  • Ask for compliance on behalf of the Colombian Government with the UN recommendations on human rights and also with the international conventions and recommendations made by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which have been signed and ratified by Colombia;
  • Urge local, districtal and national government to set up emergency measures to overcome the social crisis and the labor dispute affecting the resident and oil workers from Puerto Gaitan;
  • Demand respect for national sovereignty in the territory of Puerto Gaitan, and, as such, require that the Canadian company Pacific Rubiales Energy can not block public roads or impede the exercise of trade union rights as recognized by Colombia;
  • Document human rights abuses and violation of social, environmental and economic rights of indigenous and peasant communities in the region and of oil workers;
  • Start the management of complaints at national and international level regarding the actions of foreign companies investing in Puerto Gaitan for their violation of human rights, labor rights and trade union freedoms;
  • Make visible the national and international support to the movement of affected communities and oil workers from Puerto Gaitan.

 

 

We invite you to express your support for this humanitarian convoy, writing to the Colombian authorities, the Canadian Embassy and the Canadian company Pacific Rubiales. To do this, you can use the online form.

 

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PASC

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