First Collective Bargaining Agreement With the Port Society of Buenaventura in 25 Years


After several rounds of negotiations, the first collective bargaining agreement between a Colombian  port society and a union have been signed in Buenaventura.

Translated statement via Union Portuaria:


The National Board of Directors of the Port Workers Union of Colombia (Union Portuaria) and the Negotiators Commission informs about the list of demands presented to the companies SPRBUN and TECSA:

  1. A collective bargaining agreement was signed on Wednesday, June 24 with SPRBUN and on Thursday, June 25 with TECSA.
  2. TECSA is the main port operator of Buenaventura and SPRBUN maintains a situation of control over this operator with 99.9% shareholding.
  3. Of the 34 listed demands, 29 were agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreements.
  4. SPRBUN has personnel in their plant of 376 workers and TECSA has 523 workers.
  5. The conversations about the demands were carried out in the city of Buenaventura and were developed with the utmost respect between the two parties.
  6. We highlight the attentive attitude and participation of the workers regarding the development of the conversations, as well as the constant information and updates about what was happening at the negotiating table.

The most important aspects agreed upon are the following:

  1. Indefinite contract for all personnel who have a fixed term contract of one year or more.
  2. Port crane operators and mobile crane operators will have 8 hour shifts, with two shifts off for every two shifts worked.
  3. For each container moved, bonuses of $350 pesos ($0.13 USD) will be paid to port equipment operators and bonuses of $169 pesos ($0.06 USD) will be paid to crane overseers.
  4. In the case of a SPRBUN worker being transferred to another company still controlled by SPRBUN, the worker will keep all of his or her rights.
  5. After the third extension of a fixed term contract, these contracts will become indefinite contracts.
  6. The disciplinary system will coincide with the principles established in the court ruling C-593 of 2014.
  7. Complimentary meals will be given to workers halfway through every shift, with 30 minutes to eat in quality and sanitary conditions as established in decree 3075 of 1997. In the case of overtime, workers have the right to another meal.
  8. Prohibition of collective pacts which seek to undermine the already-agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement with the Portworkers Union of Colombia.  The companies may offer benefits to their workers without discrimination.
  9. Assistance to the Buenaventura branch of the Portworkers Union of Colombia for $6,000,000 pesos (approximately $2200 USD) for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement; transport for attending national Portworkers Union of Colombia assemblies and expense allowances of $100,000 pesos (approximately $37 USD) per day for delegates, 208 days of permission for leaders per year, 108 days of permission for union courses for associates and expense allowances of $60,000 pesos (approximately $22 USD).
  10. Educational assistance for workers’ children who are in preschool, primary school, high school, and higher education; life insurance for workers.
  11. Respect for salaries, an issue that the Portworkers Union of Colombia presented a request for standardizing, keeping in mind that the port companies had contracted a study for the general improvement of all positions, it was agreed that in a maximum time period of 45 days after the collective bargaining agreements were signed, the companies will present a general proposal for improving salaries.
  12. Within a maximum time period of 45 days, the company will give a response to the petition regarding standardization and naming of maintenance personnel.
  13. The duration of the collective bargaining agreements will be two years beginning on July 1, 2015.
  14. It was agreed additionally to pay vacation compensations which have been owed since 2010 to operators, crane overseers and security supervisors, in individual quantities that vary between 3 and 7 million pesos (approximately $1120 to $2615 USD).
  15. It was agreed to name 10 more crane directors, 4 mobile crane operators, and 14 port crane operators.
  16. The companies will recognize through the Employee Fund 100% of what each worker owes each two weeks, up to 10% of his or her salary.

Watch our video on conditions for port workers in Buenaventura:

Buenaventura’s Port Workers from PASO International on Vimeo.

Union Sindical Obrera (USO) Enters Negotiations with Pacific Rubiales Energy

Download Press Release in PDF HERE.

For info in Spanish contact Hector Vaca (Col) 316 279 0673;

For information in English: Neil Martin (US) 513 302 5492;

Earlier this month, a group of direct employees at Meta Petroleum Corp. – a subsidiary of Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE) in Puerto Gatian, Meta – joined Colombian oil sector union USO. On June 16, a list of demands was formally presented and on June, 30 a negotiating committee initiated discussions with Meta Petroleum. Delay tactics employed by the company prevented a productive first session and dates for resumed dialogues are pending.

These are the first negotiations between USO and a PRE subsidiary since controversial labor conflicts in 2011, when USO bargained for dramatically improved labor conditions at subcontracting firms but was subsequently forced to leave Puerto Gaitan as a result of violence, the introduction of a company union, and the blacklisting of USO’s approximately 3,000 members. USO’s new members are also its first at a PRE subsidiary since 2011.

A 2013 criminal complaint filed by USO, which documents PRE’s systematic violation of its workers’ freedom of association, was transferred in May to the human rights branch of the Prosecutor General’s Office. As a result of several such reassignments, this investigation has failed to move forward for the past year.

Some 150 workers joined USO several months ago at the Caño Sur field, adjacent to Rubiales, which is operated by Colombia’s national oil company Ecopetrol. USO signed a collective bargaining agreement with Ecopetrol in August, 2014 which covers approximately 2,500 direct employees and approximately 20,000 (of 37,109) workers outsourced to intermediary firms. Ecopetrol is among the world’s largest 50 oil companies; PRE does not figure within the top 200.

Earlier this year USO led a coalition of unions and members of congress, successfully lobbying Ecopetrol to assume full control of the Rubiales concession in 2016 (where it currently contracts operations to PRE). Rubiales is Colombia’s most lucrative oil field, producing 162,000 barrels daily. PRE will maintain exclusive rights to the neighboring Quifa field through 2031, and has discovered significant reserves in its CP0-1, CP0-12, and CP0-14 concessions, also in Puerto Gaitan. Subcontracting firms under PRE employ an estimated 15,000 workers in the region.

Multinational Alfa and US-based Harbor Energy Ltd. offered to buy PRE in May, but a group representing 17% of the company’s shareholders has attempted to block the sale, claiming the price is deflated.

USO represents approximately 30,000 members in Colombia’s oil and energy sector, and has worked for 92 years to improve the lives of working families and defend the public administration of the country’s national resources.


Concerning Situation in Rubiales

PASO is gravely concerned about the current situation in parts of rural Puerto Gaitan, Meta, where community members are protesting in response to hiring policies at Pacific Rubiaes Energy (PRE) and the non-compliance with regional agreements on the part of the company and several of its subsidiaries/partners.

On the morning of May 19, 2105 approximately 600 residents of Puerto Gaitan’s rural settlements Puerto Triunfo, Santa Helena and Rubiales initiated a protest in response to PRE’s failure to comply with agreements made during preceding months. Read specifics here (Spanish only).

At the onset, protests were peaceful and participants engaged in dialogue with Colombia’s National Police. However, at 7:00 am on May 19 approximately 70 agents of ESMAD (the Colombian armed forces’ Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron) arrived at the scene and abruptly began shooting teargas at protestors seated near the main road in Puerto Triunfo, at which point the majority of the protestors sought refuge in nearby houses or businesses. ESMAD agents at no point engaged with community members or communicated clearly as to their desires or intentions.

Afterwards community delegates described the following events:

  1. When community members sought refuge in the house of Ms. Luz Dari Tello, which was being used to provide childcare during the protests, the ESMAD shot tear gas into her home affecting both children adults.
  2. ESMAD agents entered the homes of a number of residents without permission.
  3. On the morning of May 19, 2015, local residents Jesid Monsalve and Luis Gomez Caceres were arrested in private residences by SIJIN (the criminal investigation division of the Colombian Police). According to authorities Mr. Monsalve and Mr. Gomez are being held at the prosecutors’ office (Fiscalia) in Puerto Gaitan.
  4. SIJIN agents also indicated they were looking for Hector Sanchez, an elected member of the Community Action Board in Rubiales, and a subject protected by Colombia’s National Protection Unit. SIJIN agents entered private residences without permission to this end.
  5. Community delegates from local communities have been informed by SIJIN that they will be prosecuted as a result of property damage that occurred during the protests. Nesler Gonzales, an elected member of the Puerto Triunfo Community Action Board, was communicated this information by a representative of PRE.

PASO has accompanied Mr. Sánchez on a permanent basis since May 17 and our staff can attest to his non-involvement in illegal activities. PASO has observed both Mr. Sánchez and Mr. Nesler González repeatedly urging protestors not to engage in violent or destructive behavior.

PASO urges the Colombian authorities to ensure that the rights of its citizens are respected and that due process is employed during arrests or legal procedures.

USO’s Vice President Fired on the Heels of Win in Rubiales

Since last year, a broad coalition led by Colombian oil sector union USO has been advocating for the non-extension of Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales’ operating contract in Rubiales, the country’s most productive oil concession. In March national oil company Ecopetrol announced that it would not extend the contract, instead assuming control of Rubiales’ operations in 2016, which produce approximately 200,000 barrels of oil daily. USO sees this decision as a major victory due to the vast amounts of revenue that will be generated for the nation as a result, and criticizes Pacific Rubiales’ labor and environmental policies.

Rubiales es nuestro2

However, relations between USO and Ecopetrol deteriorated on March 27 when the company fired the union’s national Vice President Edwin Palma. The notice indicated that Palma’s having published the salaries earned by its top executives amounted to a breach of their privacy.

The dismissal, and its motive, have been called into question by Colombian policymakers and the international community. US and Canada-based union United Steelworkers stated that the action is a clear attempt to silence union activists, and violates ILO conventions and Colombia’s commitments to labor rights.

This event has added to an already tense relationship between union and employer in the context of mass dismissals of workers as part of Ecopetrol’s plans to cut investment by 25% in 2015. USO has indicated the possibility of a national strike, fearing Ecopetrol will attempt to gut its collective bargaining agreement with the union. Some 600 ICP workers were fired in Bucaramanga last month.

USO’s collective bargaining agreements with Ecopetrol have long set the standard for labor conditions in Colombia’s oil industry. Ecopetrol was founded when USO organized a national strike to demand the creation of a publically managed oil company in 1948. The company is 85% owned by the state and the Colombian government recently appointed Juan Carlos Echeverry, a close ally of President Santos, to be its new president.

Buenaventura’s Humanitarian and Social Crisis, One Year Later

Community Groups Gather in Buenaventura, Mark One Year Anniversary of Historic Peace March


On the heels of 187 murders, 39 reported forced disappearances and 4,745 inter-urban displaced people in the municipality of Buenaventura in 2013 alone, residents had reached a boiling point.  Leaders representing congregations of faith, unions, students and Buenaventura’s diverse communities released a manifesto calling on the national government to respond to the humanitarian and social crisis in Buenaventura. On February 19th, 2014 over 30,000 residents of Buenaventura, dressed in white, flooded the streets of their city in an unprecedented demonstration of unity.  People came together under a unified banner: “End violence and live with dignity in Buenaventura.”

The manifesto highlighted the alarming rates of violence as a result of the national government’s failure to comply with its constitutional obligation to ensure the population’s safety and welfare. Demands included an emergency response to the current crisis by the government and long term strategies for social investment and development. Protestors call for significant investment in healthcare, education, job development and access to vital infrastructure such as clean water and insist that the armed forces protect the citizens of Buenaventura.

A new coalition was formed in the wake of this massive mobilization, known as The March Committee, to push for proposed reforms.  Today, one year since the march took place, community stakeholders gathered in efforts to keep pressure on the national government, celebrate limited victories and refocus public attention on key issues.  A press conference, rally and cultural event was held in front of Buenaventura’s Mayoral offices.  Diocese Héctor Epalza Quintero, the coalition’s most prominent leader, voiced the widely-felt sentiment that “one year after 30,000 residents marched in the streets of Buenaventura, the magic we have created here is embodied in the hope and solidarity that people have shown. The people have said ‘no’ to violence and fear.  They say ‘yes’ to a different Buenaventura.  It is a ray of hope and commitment on the part of the citizenry.”

Developments and Unfulfilled Promises

Murders in Buenaventura reportedly decreased by 38% in 2014, in relation to statistics for 2013.  Many attribute this drop to a significant number of military agents temporarily deployed in the city.  One community leader said that “the crisis in Buenaventura created a problem for President Santos’ re-election hopes.  Unfortunately, once he was re-elected the military disappeared.’  Others have suggested that neo-paramilitary group Urabeños consolidated control of strategic neighborhoods, resulting in a temporary lull in its turf war with rival group La Empresa.  In January, 2015 four clandestine graves were discovered in Barrio El Progresso, in Buenaventura’s Comuna 12, an area that local residents say has become a clandestine cemetery.  Community leaders expressed hope that the decline in murders would continue in a downward trend, while also noting a need to investigate the relationship between higher rates of violence, displacement and murder in areas where new development projects are proposed or underway.  Though eight prosecutors have been added in Buenaventura, rates of impunity remain alarmingly high.

Members of Buenaventura’s two largest healthcare unions (ANTHOC and SINTRAHOSPLAP) conducted a mock funeral to call attention to their failing system.

Buenaventura’s healthcare network has shown signs of significant deterioration over the past year, underlined by the liquidation of its only public hospital. The closest full service hospital for the city’s 400,000 residents is now a three hour drive away in Cali.  While the national government provided six new ambulances for the city in the past year, currently only 62 hospital beds are in operation for the city’s entire population.  This week it was announced that plans for a refurbished hospital opening in April have been pushed back until at least November.

Private enterprise Hidropacífico assumed responsibility of Buenaventura’s water distribution in 2002, replacing public company Acuavalle, with the promise to bring fresh water to residents’ homes 24 hours a day . Thirteen years later service has declined notably, as a result of corruption, absentee political leadership and lack of oversight. The majority of the city’s residents have access to running water in their homes for no more than a few hours every other day.  Community leader Narcilo Rosero Castillo explains that last year the government agreed to repair the water system in four key areas, and ensure potable water service to Buenaventura’s homes on a permanent basis by the end of October, 2015.  While progress has been made to repair the intake system, nothing has been done to address deteriorating pipes, purify water or improve distribution.  Residents demanded access to running water today, pouring buckets of water over their heads and chanting ‘Hidropacífico needs to go.’


Unemployment in Buenaventura continues to hover at a staggering 63%. The national government has proposed setting 5 billion pesos (roughly $2 million USD) aside for the artisanal and informal sectors of the Buenaventuran workforce, but according to Manuel Bedoya, president of the Artisanal Fisherman Association, the money has yet to materialize.  Plans also exist to redevelop a small port for independent fishermen but, likewise, there is no evidence of advancements.

Moreover, little oversight is applied to ensure that legal standards are applied in the city’s existing jobs. Jhon Jhairo Castro, president of Buenaventura’s port workers union announced that a study conducted by the union to be published in March, examining labor conditions in the nation’s five largest ports revealed a widespread disregard for national labor laws and international conventions across the board. In Buenaventura, illegal subcontracting is so prevalent that workers often have four levels of separation between themselves and their employer.   The average wage for a port worker in Buenaventura is a meager 646,000 pesos ($262 USD) a month, less than half of a port worker in Cartagena.

Humberto Hurtado, local representative of Colombian labor federation CUT, expressed concern regarding the Santos administration’s recent announcement of a 17 trillion peso (7 billion dollar) cut to social development nationally. Hurtado does not think government will be able to follow through on many of its commitments in Buenaventura.

In 2014, the Colombian government received over $2 billion USD in tax revenues from Buenaventura’s port-based commerce. The city’s residents feel this wealth is not being reinvested in the community.  President Santo’s recent appointment of Luis Gilberto Murillo to oversee a new program called The Pacific Initiative is one promising sign, but this year residents of Buenaventura will look to the Colombian government to produce results by fulfilling recent commitments.  As Epalza Quintero said today, “the government has turned its back on Buenaventura.  Now is the time to extend a generous hand to our city in order to lift us out of our social and humanitarian crisis.”

USO: We are in Campo Rubiales to Stay

On January 21st, a delegation of 150 national USO leaders, current and former workers Campo Rubiales workers, students, community members and environmentalists officially launched the new USO office in rural Puerto Gaitan.

Watch national USO leader, Fredy Pulecio speaking to workers:

USO Addresses Workers in Rubiales from PASO International on Vimeo.

The establishment of this new headquarters is a significant step for USO, which has not been able to maintain a permanent presence in the region since 2012 when it was forced to close its office due to death threats against its leaders and the murder of USO activist Milton Rivas. Norlay Acevedo, a former worker subcontracted by Pacific Rubiale was one of the leaders who received death threats, forcing him into exile in Chile in 2012. With the accompaniment of PASO, USO and the international labor movement, he has now returned to Campo Rubiales and is organizing workers.

Norlay Acevedo, Returns to Rubiales After 2 Years Living In Exile from PASO International on Vimeo.

Union Sinidcal Obrera

Union Sindical Obrera (USO) in Campo Rubiales from PASO International on Vimeo.

PASO heads into 2015 with a renewed commitment to provide protection and support for USO and ACAAC with full-time international organizers in Meta’s Rubiales oil fields thanks to the support of UNIFOR. We are proud to have been an integral part of this campaign in Puerto Gaitan to allow the area’s workers and communities to demand compliance with labor, environmental, and social regulations on the part of government agencies and the private sector.

We are working with a broad coalition in Colombia and internationally on this campaign to advocate for democratic union representation, collective bargaining, environmental protections, and public policy that allows Colombians to benefit from this lucrative industry.

FIDH Research Grant

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PASO will partner with the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) to carry out a human rights impact assessment regarding Canadian oil multinational Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE) in Puerto Gaitan, Meta.

PRE was established a decade ago and has expanded rapidly. It ranks first among Canadian companies with operations in Colombia in terms of sales, followed by Meta Petroleum, Petrominerales, and Pacific Stratus Energy, all owned by PRE. It is the second most influential oil company in Colombia where it currently holds 40 oil concessions in exploration phases.

FIDH’s specific focus on PRE stems from the scale of the company’s growing operations in Colombia and neighboring countries as well as allegations made regarding its treatment of workers, local indigenous communities and the environment by organizations including the AFL-CIO, IndustriALL and the Canadian Labor Congress.

The study will use methodology developed by FIDH to examine possible violations of human rights, labor standards, the rights of indigenous communities, and environmental regulations according to domestic and international standards. It will analyze responsibilities, recommend remedies depending on findings and be published in the second semester of 2015.

Colombian Port Workers in Solidarity Against Police Violence


Translated and posted with the permission of Unión Portuaria.

A Declaration Supporting the Movement Against Racism from the Port Workers Union, Buenaventura, Colombia.

Black lives matter in Buenaventura!

Today we are proud to stand with our brothers and sisters across the United States and around the world in response to the recent police killings of Eric Garner, Mike Brown and countless other victims of state violence. We unite with the international community to say that ‘black lives matter.’ While it should be implicit that all lives matter, communities in recent days have risen up to reinforce the fact that black and brown human beings have an equal place on this earth, because often times it feels that we do not. As residents of Buenaventura, Colombia, we know that our city could not be a clearer example of state imposed racism, segregation and inequality.

Buenaventura, a city whose residents are 90% Afro-Colombian, is Colombia’s most important port, exporting over 60% of the country’s goods. In spite of the wealth that passes through our communtiy, we suffer from an unemployment rate four times higher than the national average, and 80% of our city’s residents live in poverty. While we support the ongoing talks being held in Cuba in order to end our country’s 50 year armed conflict, the only development that we have seen locally are emerging gangs that recruit our children and use increasingly brutal ways to murder our neighbors such as the casas de pique (chop houses). So today we take a stand as a community to say that ‘black lives matter.’

We stand here today as port workers whose bodies are broken every day to export the wealth of the country, while we don’t earn enough to feed our families. We stand as residents of one of the rainiest regions on the planet to demand that the city return our running water, something that disappeared when the system was privatized. We stand as workers with dangerous jobs, who live in a city that recently closed its only hospital. We stand here as parents afraid to let our children play outside or even go to school because gangs are trying to recruit them. We stand here today as people who have worked our entire lives but don’t have anything to show for it. We want a change. We stand here today as proud black people who demand that the local and national government stop ignoring our community and ensure basic human rights such as access to healthcare, dignified jobs, essential infrastructure and to the right to live in peace.

The residents of Buenaventura are uplifted by the tidal wave of people who have swelled into the streets of cities around the world to put an end to state-sanctioned violence against communities of color. We stand in solidarity with Ferguson and New York City and can feel the rumblings of marching feet in our own community.


Buenaventura’s Madres Comunitarias also expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this week.

Advocates for Local Jobs Murdered in Meta


Above: Union Sindical Obrera (USO) labor leaders at Nelson Medina’s funeral.

Villavicencio, Colombia.

Two community activists have been murdered in the Colombian department of Meta in the last month and a half, in what oil and energy sector union USO condemns as a new chapter in a long history of systematic violence designed to weaken community and labor organizations in this petroleum-rich region.

Nelson Medina was murdered on Saturday, October 17th in Apiay, Meta where he acted as president of ARCA, a community-based organization that monitors and executes job-placement for local oil workers. Edith Santos was killed on August 29th in nearby Acacias. She was on the National Board of the union Sinproseg, which represents security officers, and president of the local Community Action Committee where her primary role was in the promotion of local jobs. Spokespersons from the union indicate that both victims were recognized leaders, actively involved in the region’s campaigns for social justice, and long-time USO allies.

This latest series of attacks comes as USO launches a new organizing campaign in the nearby conflict region of Puerto Gaitan, home to Colombia’s largest oil reserves, where the union is working in coalition with grassroots organization ACAAC (Environmental, Agrarian and Community Committee) to address issues such as regional employment, improved working conditions, and environmental protections (click here for more information).

Rodolfo Vecino, former President of the USO, indicates that “local labor intermediation has become a new way for organized crime to generate income throughout the country and increase its influence within the extractive industry”. Hector Sanchez, who presides over ACAAC, fears for his life: “we are denouncing the same type of corruption in Puerto Gaitan, where the mayors’ office has set up a labor intermediation committee, and is selling contracts to selected [oil sector] workers”.

This context of increased violence surrounding what Meta residents refer to as the “mafias of labor intermediation” has unfolded as the recently appointed Colombian Labor Minister indicates his intention to confront informal hiring practices in the oil industry. Although hiring through third-party intermediaries has been prohibited, the vast majority of oil sector workers continue to be employed in this manner.