SEIU, the union which represents 1.5 million public service workers, nurses, hospital staff, nursing home care providers, building services and security guards in North America, sends solidarity to the brave women of SINTRACIHOBI!
View original FIDH Press Release here.
Translated by PASO
and member organization in Colombia
CCAJAR – Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo and
PASO – Project for International Accompainement and Solidarity in Colombia
On February 23, 2016 the Colombian Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of exploration and extraction activities being carried out by Pacific E&P and subsidiary Meta Petroleum Corp., in joint venture with Ecopetrol, in Puerto Gaitan, Meta due to effects caused in the Sikuani indigenous territory Vencedor Piriri. The court considered that operations in the Quifa concession violate the fundamental rights of the indigenous community, specifically its right to prior consultation.
The sentence recognizes that “the constant coming and going of personnel, machinery, products and materials, the ongoing creation of odors, noise and light, and affectations to waterways… are all situations that must be considered to have direct effects on community members’ lives, beliefs, institutions, spiritual well-being and the land they occupy or in other ways use” (translation ours). Consequentially, the court concluded that consultation was mandatory and that Pacific E&P’s failure to undergo the process had been illegal.
Access to prior consultation mechanisms is a fundamental right protected by the Colombian Constitution, but domestic regulations lack clarity, detail, and fail to comply with international norms, preventing the effective protection of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities.
The authors of this press release have been researching the effects of Pacific E&P’s operations in Meta since 2014. A corresponding report, to be released in coming months, will address the company’s actions and their effects on the environment, the rights of indigenous communities, and the labor conditions for employees. It will make recommendations to authorities, Pacific E&P and Ecopetrol, which has indicated its intention to assume full management of Pacific E&P’s neighboring concession, Rubiales (Colombian most productive oil field), in June, 2016.
Throughout our research, indigenous communities in Puerto Gaitan have insistently denounced the effects of other industrial processes in the region, such as Llanos Pipeline (Oleoducto de los Llanos), PEL Electric Lines (Red Electrica PEL), and operations of Hocol (a subsidiary of Ecopetrol), which have been implemented with no processes of prior consultation by authorities or private enterprises, in blatant disregard of Constitutional Court jurisprudence.
FIDH, CCAJAR, and PASO receive this decision with satisfaction, and urge that Pacific E&P and Ecopetrol take action in order to comply with the sentence, immediately suspending all activities within two kilometers of the Vencedor Piriri Indigenous Reservation. We also urge all companies to attend to any and all requests for prior consultation processes in the region, promptly, and in good faith.
FIDH : José Carlos Thissen (Spanish, French) – Tel: +51 9541 31650 (América Latina) firstname.lastname@example.org
FIDH : Arthur Manet (Spanish, French, English) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (París) email@example.com
CCAJAR : Marcela Rodríguez, firstname.lastname@example.org;
PASO : Neil Martin, email@example.com – Tel: +311 561 8403 (Bogota)
By Jeff Ordower
After 20 years of labor and community organizing I came to Bogota for a brief sabbatical, to do, well, more organizing. I came to volunteer for PASO because I have known about the organization since it was just starting out and have been very impressed with both the concept and the work.
PASO has been able to do two things extremely well. First, it has taken the notion of protection-oriented international accompaniment to the labor world. Second, it has been able to raise funds for Colombian unions that can be used for organizing.
The new project, in which I am spending most of my time working, is with the union that represents home child care providers, the ‘community mothers’, SINTRACIHOBI. Funded by government agency ICBF, these mothers work in the barrios populares (the country’s poorest neighborhoods). Approximately 70,000 women perform three different kinds of activities. First, the traditional mothers take care of three to five year olds in their homes, eight hours a day 200 days a year. Each mother, by herself, takes care of around a dozen kids. Second, there are ‘FAMI’ mothers, who care for younger kids (infants to two-tear-olds), have smaller cohorts and work about half time. Finally, substitute mothers essentially act as interim parents for kids with serious disabilities. Colombia has one of world’s highest rates of internal displacement, rivaling Syria and Libya, and these substitutes fill the role of parents, caring for kids with emotional issues or physical challenges. There are also an increasing number of publically funded private childcare centers, whose employees are eligible to join the union as well.
These women, through Sintracihobi, have accomplished some amazing things over the course of the past three years. After working for almost three decades without getting a paycheck, with the help of Senator Alexander Lopez, they organized a 24-day national strike in 2013 which led, for the first time, to regular salaries and benefits.
After some huge wins, the mothers have entered 2016 ready to move forward, and there is still much to fight for. Because they worked for 26 years with no salary, there were not issued social security payments and cannot retire, even though many would be eligible for retirement in their late 50s according to the number years they have worked. A legal team organized by the union has filed thousands of individual lawsuits, but meanwhile many women in their 70s and 80s continue to work with serious physical issues. This hurts the quality of service that is provided for an estimated million of the country’s poorest kids.
There are also huge problems with the private for-profit operators who benefit from a patchwork of public contracts with ICBF thourghout Colombia. Many of these operators, which are in charge of providing food for the kids, skim money off the top resulting in children getting either rotten food, or going hungry. Mothers go into their own pockets to keep the kids fed, but in some regions kids are dying of malnutrition. Allegations of corruption are widespread, and the National Director of ICBF recently saw her fiancé arrested several days before their wedding on corruption charges.
As a result of the mothers’ excellent work, the British union UNISON has decided to partner with PASO and Sintracihobi. Components of this three-year project include the following:
– Seminars and leader-to-leader training with community mothers and their colleagues in the childcare industry. Thinking through agendas, making plans and really figuring out how to function like a trade union are some parts of this capacity building that we intend to help with.
-Technical support so that the union can learn to manage a website, social networks, and databases.
– Training with regards to dues deduction, so that the union has resources to continue the struggle when the project is over.
– As mentioned earlier, if the mothers decide to take direct action, PASO will provide accompaniment and monitoring, in order to prevent a violent response on the part of the police or illegal armed groups.
Because of the developing crisis in ICBF, it is likely that Sintracihobi will organize another national strike this spring. PASO will be there, not just to provide accompaniment, but also as a partner in planning, preparations, and just doing the work, side by side, with the community mothers.
Article posted with the permission of ILRF and USLEAP. See original version in the USLEAP Fall 2015 Newsletter HERE.
By Caitrin McKee and Catherine Cain
Petroleum Company Blocks Union Vote Despite “Equitable” Certification
In Puerto Gaitan, Meta, Colombia, petroleum workers who joined the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) in June are fighting for the union’s recognition by long-time labor rights abuser Pacific Exploration and Production Corp (formerly known as Pacific Rubiales, or “Pacific”), Colombia’s fifth largest corporation.
Since then, the company’s local subsidiary has refused to engage in contract negotiations, which gave workers the legal right to vote on a strike in August. But the company prevented workers from assembling for the vote during the 20-day period allowed. The workers’ fate is now in the hands of the Colombian Ministry of Labor, but the USO is not optimistic given the Ministry’s history of favoring business interests over workers’ rights.
Pacific claims to honor workers’ freedom of association, emphasizing that over 50% of its workers belong to an organization called the Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Energética Nacional (UTEN). Indeed, the UTEN’s high membership enabled Pacific to be certified as “socially responsible” by an organization called Equitable Origins (EO) in late 2014. But it’s worth examining just how “free” workers’ association to the UTEN really is.
USLEAP sent a letter of protest to Equitable Origins in December 2014, in coordination with a formal AFL-CIO complaint citing Pacific’s well-documented history of repressing workers’ rights. In fact, the USO was forced out of Pacific’s oil fields at gunpoint in 2011, after it negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for workers. Over 3,000 USO members were fired and blacklisted, and many received death threats (a criminal complaint filed by USO against Pacific is still ongoing).
Following USO’s exile, Pacific forced workers to join the UTEN (or lose their jobs), a tactic designed to protect company interests and prevent independent union organizing. In early 2015, the USO was able to re-open an office in Puerto Gaitan with support from international accompaniment organizations like USLEAP ally, PASO International. But in July 2015, police and military officials visited USO’s regional office at midnight – in vans marked with the Pacific logo. Meanwhile, 17 direct employees who had joined the USO have left due to company threats and dismissals, and the USO estimates that Pacific’s workforce has plummeted from its 2013 peak of 14,000 to only 3,150.
Repression of Rights Defenders Continues
Community activist and former Pacific worker, Hector Sanchez Gomez, has repeatedly suffered retaliation for his continued advocacy on behalf of Pacific workers. Since 2011, Hector has been falsely accused of criminal activities in an attempt to smear and neutralize him. Even more disturbing, Hector received a call on June 1, 2015 informing him that an assassin had been paid roughly USD $3,600 to kill him. (Colombia saw 34 human rights defenders assassinated in the first six months of 2015.)
While the Ministry of Labor did push Pacific to agree to a meeting with the USO in August, the company continues to cite a lack of formal censure by the Ministry as evidence that it complies with the law. In October, the USO announced that it was filing an additional complaint with the Ministry, which is obligated to oversee an arbitration panel, and called for international solidarity with their cause. The Ministry of Labor, however, absolved Pacific of wrongdoing following past complaints, and it has since neglected to fulfill its promises to improve labor law enforcement as part of the U.S.- Colombian Free Trade Agreement signed in 2011.
Equitable Origins and the Ministry of Labor Must Act
Pacific’s union-busting clearly violates both Colombian law and the criteria of its certification by Equitable Origins. Since last year’s complaint, EO has conducted an internal review, published the company’s and auditor’s responses to its allegations, pledged stronger auditor training, and modified its standards to emphasize non-interference of employers in their workers’ union affiliation decisions. But in April 2015 it announced that a decision on de-certification would be delayed until after a verification audit could be completed over the summer.
Following an inquiry from USLEAP and PASO on September 3rd, EO stated that the audit occurred in August and promised to share results “in the coming weeks,” but it had not provided information as of early November. EO’s slow response to complaints calls into question how reliable these social certification bodies can be in upholding workers’ rights. And USO workers are not optimistic that they will prevail over the company through the arbitration panel process.
Equitable Origins must not serve as a smokescreen for Pacific’s anti-union behavior. While EO delays publicizing results of its audit, and the Ministry of Labor fails to hold Pacific accountable, Pacific continues to tout its “social responsibility” and further undermine legitimate union organizing. USLEAP will continue to follow the situation and support efforts to pressure EO and the Ministry of Labor to meet their obligations to workers.
This article exclusively reflects the point-of-view of the authors and does not reflect the opinions of PASO
Photo: Nadege Mazars
Daniel Abril was murdered on Friday, November 13 at 6:40 p.m. in the La Virgen sector of Trinidad, Casanare. The father of a 12-year old, Abril was a charismatic and a well-respected local environmental activist and outspoken critic of oil companies that operate in the region, large landowners responsible for forcible displacement, and State corruption.
In 2014, Abril was an active participant in a massive public hearing organized by Congressman Ivan Cepeda in Trinidad to gather testimony regarding environmental and human rights violations at the hands of private enterprises in the oil industry. He had also presented numerous official complaints regarding the negligence of Corporinoquia (the regional agency responsible for oversight of environmental regulations and licenses) and its director Martha Plazas.
Abril had been the target of ongoing persecution; human rights organization COSPACC has denounced unfounded prosecutions and previous attempts on Abril’s life at the hands of State agents.
Two months prior to his death he was involved in an incident involving the XVI Brigade of the Colombian National Armed Forces.
Union Portuaria is asking CIAMSA to stop breaking Colombian labor laws and consider its workers’ concerns. CIAMSA has responded by threatening its workers with dismissal, suspending three employees who participated in protests and attempting to bribe others. The company has refused to negotiate and continues to intimidate union members.
Union Portuaria Statement
Contact: Jhon Jhairo Castro (español)- firstname.lastname@example.org Nate Pacho Miller (English)- email@example.com
Colombian Sugar Exporter Denies Freedom of Association to Afro-Colombian Workers, Unleashes a Campaign of Intimidation
On August 14, a group of employees at CIAMSA , a company that loads sugar in the Port Society of Buenaventura, affiliated with Union Portuaria and presented a list of demands to the company addressing dangerously long shifts, racial discrimination in hiring practices , poverty wages, and the illegal outsourcing of hundreds of workers.
In violation of Colombian law and international agreements, CIAMSA has refused to negotiate with its employees. Instead, the company has unleashed a campaign of intimidation and persecution targeting the workers who decided to unionize. Recently the company has taken retaliatory measures that punish, suspend, and pressure workers into disaffiliating from our organization. These actions contrast starkly with the company’s ethical commitments and have come at a time when Colombian sugar exports are earning record profits due to the growing value of the dollar.
Union Portuaria respectfully invites CIAMSA to sit down at the negotiating table. Our union is absolutely certainty that, through dialogue, we can find common ground and advance an agenda that supports dignified work, community development, democratic participation and safety (to borrow the words of the Director of the National Center for Historical Memory, Gonzalo Sanchez).
We call on the national government, the labor movement, human rights coalitions, and social/racial justice-oriented organizations to join us in this important fight to help put an end to our precarious social and labor conditions. .
META PETROLEUM REFUSES TO NEGOTIATE
PREPARE FOR A GENERAL STRIKE IN THE RUBIALES OIL FIELD
Today, August 31, 2015, marks the end of a 20-day period established to ‘negotiate’ the list of demands USO recently presented to Meta Petroleum Corp – Pacific Rubiales. During these 20 calendar days, only seven meetings were held, all characterized by the company’s continued refusal to negotiate. USO has brought this to the attention of the Labor Ministry, in order to facilitate direct negotiations.
The list of demands submitted by employees affiliated with USO aims to establish a collective bargaining agreement in Meta Petroleum Corp, in order to improve the quality of life for direct and subcontracted employees throughout the country.
The list of demands seek basic protections for workers and their families: job stability, the direct hiring of workers who perform activities relating to the mission of the company (maintenance, operations, transportation, treatment, etc.); continuity in the case of the company’s sale or delivery of the fields it currently operates; the establishment of a set pay rate for workers and career development opportunities within the company; technical training and certifications; occupational health and work place safety protections; educational aid for workers and their families; premiums and additional benefits included in workers’ wages/income, among others.
Meta Petroleum Corp., has prevented the negotiation of a collective labor agreement at every step of the process. They claim that due to the decline in oil prices, they are not willing to consider the possibility of making changes to employees’ salaries.
Colombian law establishes that once the negotiation period ends with no agreement, workers have ten (10) business days to determine whether they will proceed by means of a general strike or through a Tribunal of Compulsory Arbitration. A general assembly of all workers of Meta Petroleum Corp, including those affiliated to Union Sindical Obrera as well as those unaffiliated, must vote by secret written ballot and decide if they choose to strike or participate in arbitration.
If, as has historically happened, workers chose the option of a strike, the company must allow them to suspend their activities and close facilities, until the parties can sit down and negotiate an agreement for the workers. It should be noted that the armed forces may not intervene in a labor dispute and must comply with their constitutional functions. We seek the accompaniment of the Labor Ministry and other entities in guaranteeing our right to conduct a General Assembly and respective strike vote.
In the event that workers opt for arbitration, each party shall appoint one arbitrator and agree on a third. More often than not, the two sides do not come to an agreement and the third arbitrator is appointed by the Ministry of Labor. Workers have been very skeptical of the results of such arbitration tribunals, due to the huge influence companies exert in the Labor Ministry. In addition, as the process drags on, the company may simply refuse to renew a contract of employment to USO affiliates, as in this case they already have done, openly violating their workers’ right to a union and freedom of association.
Many eyes are turned towards this process. A collective bargaining agreement would protect thousands of employees at Metapetroleum Corp – Pacific Rubiales Energy, who would benefit from a new, stable work environment in which there would be substantial improvement in labor conditions and amenities, established through collective bargaining and not through the ‘good-will’ of an employer who has offered its employees practically nothing.
We call on the Ministry of Labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO), our sisters unions and human rights organizations to accompany this process in order to prevent the obstruction of freedom of association and help us overcome the aggressive anti-union policies that Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales attempts to spread throughout our country.
Therefore, we invite all workers who provide service for Meta Petroleum Corp. to vote to approve a general strike. We believe this is the best choice for workers, through unity and organized struggle, and the best tool that we have to confront the unwillingness of your employer to negotiate and sign a collective bargaining agreement
USO Bargaining Committee. Bogota, D.C. August 31, 2015.
Watch video of USO speaking to workers in Campo Rubiales:
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:
PORTWORKERS UNION OF COLOMBIA SIGNS COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS WITH THE REGIONAL PORT SOCIETY OF BUENAVENTURA (SPRBUN) AND THE SPECIALIZED CONTAINER TERMINAL OF BUENAVENTURA (TECSA)
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:
The most important aspects agreed upon are the following:
Watch our video on conditions for port workers in Buenaventura:
Download Press Release in PDF HERE.
For info in Spanish contact Hector Vaca (Col) 316 279 0673; firstname.lastname@example.org
For information in English: Neil Martin (US) 513 302 5492; email@example.com
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.
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:
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.