Pacific Rubiales, the largest foreign oil company in Colombia, created their own in-house labor union in attempts to cut the legs out from under the USO, Colombia’s national oil workers union, said the union’s president on Tuesday.
Rodolfo Vecino told Colombia Reports that the Canadian-based oil company Pacific Rubiales created a union “called UTEL…which was assembled…to hinder the negotiation process that had been going on with USO.”
According to Vecino, this is indicative of a “line of behavior…a definite policy…to prevent [Pacific Rubiales] workers from organizing and fighting for their rights.”
Puerto Gaitan, a municipality in central Colombia where Pacific Rubiales extracts oil, has been a hotbed of social unrest for years and according to a local NGO “some 300 Colombian workers” are involved in a dispute with the Canadian oil giant over “unpaid wages, uncooked meals, and a lack of potable water and sanitary equipment.” Vecino confirmed that for the last 120 days, laborers in Puerto Gaitan have been protesting working conditions.
Proyecto Gramalote told W Radio last week that Pacific Rubiales was threatening to fire Colombian workers who joined labor unions. The NGO’s spokesperson, Felipe Harman said that there were “threats of massive layoffs.”
In addition to creating their own union, allegedly withholding wages and keeping workers on a contract basis so as not to put them on salary, Vecino claimed Pacific Rubiales attempted to block Senator Alexander Lopez from meeting with USO representatives when the senator visited a Pacific Rubiales worksite.
Halfway across the country in the San Pedro municipality in the department of Sucre, locals have clashed with the multinational oil company over the lack of local investment. The protests gained notoriety last week when a Colombian journalist was apprehended by police while he was on his way to cover the dispute and later died due to head trauma he received while in police custody.
Prior to the death of Guillermo Quiroz, Pacific Rubiales downplayed the protest in San Pedro, claiming that “the protest of a few people does not reflect the general feeling of a community.”
Despite inquiries, Pacific Rubiales refused to comment.