Colombian miners go on 53-day strike for better wages and working conditions, 2013

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Timing
Time Period:  
July 23
2013
to
September 14
2013
Location and Goals
Country: 
Colombia
Location City/State/Province: 
Pribbenow and El Descanso, Columbia
Location Description: 
Northern Columbia
Goals: 
Workers represented by the Sintramienergetica union demanded a pay increase of 9 percent with smaller inflation-linked increments in subsequent years, a fixed monthly salary instead of hourly pay and new jobs for 400 port workers who were to be made redundant.
 

Colombia is an important supplier of coal to European markets and although Colombian output is small compared to the United States and China, it is a major player in the seaborne coal export trade since those countries consume much of their own production for electricity. After oil, coal is Colombia’s main export. Drummond Co. is Colombia’s No.2 coal miner exporting 26 million tons of coal in 2012, about one-third of the national total. Their coal is marketed and sold both internationally and domestically to customers in Europe and the Mediterranean, the United States, South America, and Asia. Drummond has two mines in Pribbenow and El Descanso, in the north of the country and a port in Colombia.

Coal is a major earner for the government through royalties mining companies pay. Drummond Co. had been expected to produce 32 million tons out of some 94 million tons of forecast national output in 2013, which would earn the nation about 900 billion pesos ($480 million) in royalties.

Drummond’s competitor, Cerrejon, had recently experienced a month-long strike 5 months previous in February where logistics problems affected rail transport and the loading of ships.

The Sintramienergetica union, which represents one-half of Drummond's 10,000 workers, had been in negotiations for weeks over wages and proposed job cuts for port workers to start early next year.

Workers represented by the Sintramienergetica union demanded a pay increase of 9 percent with smaller inflation-linked increments in subsequent years, which was above the 5 percent Drummond had offered, a fixed monthly salary instead of hourly pay and new jobs for 400 port workers who were to be made redundant the following January with the introduction of direct conveyor-belt loading of ships. The union demanded all those workers be offered alternative positions while the company had promised to retain 70 percent.

Even though a senior labor ministry representative joined last-ditch talks on July 22 and 23, 2013, workers at the Colombian operations of U.S. coal miner Drummond went on an indefinite strike beginning on July 23, 2013. The strike immediately shut down Drummond's exports as it included workers at its privately operated port as well as laborers at its two mines.

For each day of the strike, the government stood to lose an estimated 1.6 billion pesos ($850,000) in royalties.

The strike began with tension in the air. Paramilitary groups in Columbia issued a death threat via e-mail to several public figures, many of whom were trade unionists with Sintramienergetica. Union leaders in the past had been assassinated by paramilitary forces, and a union leader's taxi was fired upon prior to this strike.

Nevertheless, workers set up camp in front of Drummond's installations in a calm manner. They settled into peaceful picketing, in a rotation system that enabled them to return home for some of the time.

The union members also set up camp near the entrance of Pribbenow mine in Cesar province. Here about one hundred miners laid in hammocks or sat at tables playing cards while two women prepared food above a campfire and a lay preacher delivered a sermon about workers’ rights which he supported with biblical quotes.

Union workers rejected the company’s August offer of a 5 percent pay increase in the first year of a new agreement, especially since the company rejected their demands for a fixed monthly base salary plus hourly wage, instead of by-the-hour wages only.Under Colombian labour law, strikes can last a maximum of two months or 60 days before they are automatically taken to an arbitration tribunal. Colombia’s labor ministry intervened on September 10, 2013 to end more than seven weeks of strike action that shut down Drummond’s two mines and port.

On September 13, 2013, Colombia's Labor Ministry sent the case to an arbitration tribunal after the majority of the company's 5,000 direct, non-contract employees voted to resolve the dispute that way. Sintramienergetica had told its members not to participate in the vote, although the majority vote indicates that some Sintramienergetica workers voted to end the strike.

The 10,000 workers at Drummond were ordered to return to the company’s port and mines and the Colombian operations reopened on September 14, 2013, ending the 53-day strike.

In a proposed three-year pay deal, Drummond offered workers a one-time 8.5 million peso ($4,400) bonus on signing the agreement and a 5% raise, although the ultimate decision lies with the arbitration committee and not with the workers or the company.

The Drummond stoppage resulting in the loss of about one-third of the national coal output had little impact on coal prices as the global market had a surplus of coal.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Drummond’s competitor, Cerrejon, had recently experienced a month-long strike 5 months previous in February where logistics problems affected rail transport and the loading of ships. This influenced the Government to intervene prior to the maximum 60 day time period allowed for strikes.(1)

Sources: 
Energy Global. Colombian coal workers return to work as strike comes to an end. Retrieved from http://www.energyglobal.com/news/coal/articles/Colombian_coal_workers_return_to_work_as_strike_ends_46.aspx#.UrYKIqXN88M

Jamasmie, Cecilia. (July 25, 2013). Colombian coal miners’ strike drives Drummond to call partial force majeure. Retrieved from http://www.mining.com/colombian-coal-miners-strike-forces-drummond-to-call-partial-force-majeure-2-18297/

Komnenic, Ana. (August 7, 2013). No end in sight for Drummond strike. Retrieved from http://www.mining.com/no-end-in-sight-for-drummond-strike-94410/

Tomaselli, Wesley. (September 17, 2013). Colombia coal output slips on union troubles.

Retrieved from http://colombiareports.co/colombia-coal-output-slips-union-troubles/

Willis, Andrew. (August 2, 2013). Colombia Talks to Drummond and Miners in Bid to End Coal Strike. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-08-02/colombia-talks-to-drummond-and-miners-in-bid-to-end-coal-strike

Willis, Andrew. (September 16, 2013). Drummond Miners in Colombia Return to Work, Ending 53-Day Strike. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-16/drummond-miners-in-colombia-return-to-work-ending-53-day-strike.html#disqus_thread

(August 6, 2013). http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/06/colombia-coal-strike-idUSL1N0G70DQ20130806

(September 14, 2013). http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/15/us-drummond-colombia-idUSBRE98E00S20130915

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR23/037/2013/en/29fce2c9-f67b-4e95-9eab-78af9b98d0a7/amr230372013en.htm

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Ashleigh Bunting 22/12/2013