The trade union representing workers at Cerro Matoso, one of Colombia’s largest open-pit mine, told Colombia Reports on Thursday they are asking the Labor Ministry to investigate the “abusive dismissal” of 53 staff members.
According the Sintracerromatoso union, which represent 539 mining staff, the unexpected dismissal left managers and workers without jobs and was done without the authorization of the Labor Ministry, Caracol Radio reported.
The Cerro Matoso nickel mine in northern Colombian state of Cordoba is the largest open-pit mine in South America and is run by Australian multinational miner BHP Billiton.
|“BHP Billiton has brought its Cerro Matoso workers to a dangerous mental condition.”|
4% of the world’s nickel supply
According to UK wire-service Reuters, the mine is the second biggest ferro-nickel mine in the world and as of 2013 supplied roughly 4% of the world’s nickel, a reported 47,000 metric tons a year.
The union’s directors, Dominguez Hernanez told Colombia Reports the mining company initially sent a communique to its employees, presenting them a voluntarily redundancy proposal.
The communique from the company’s human resource vice-president Alejandro Quintana called for voluntarily redundancies of staff. It goes on to say some of the workers have already finished their contracts in mutual agreement, but for others ‘it wasn’t possible’ to for the contracts to be finished up with a mutual agreement.
Only four “voluntary” redundancies
According to Hernandez, just days later, Cerro Matoso called more than 100 staff members and asked them to voluntarily retire from the company, but only four people took them up on the offer.
The company then what Hernandez told ColombiaReports was an “unauthorized and unilateral dismissal of 53 workers.”
“BHP Billiton has brought Cerro Matoso workers to a dangerous mental condition, without taking in the account the risk regarding the activities in the plant operation; such situation of uncertainty can cause accidents,” the union said in a statement posted to their Facebook page, “[The company is responsible for] what is happening to this anguished workers because of the irresponsible and unfriendly attitude of the company.”
According to the bulletin and Hernandez’s statements, the trade union will initiate legal proceedings against the company as well as put forward a complaint to the Labor Minister.
It does not appear that strikes or production restrictions will result from either action.
Company: Just part of a re-structure
In a statement send to Colombia Reports, Cerro Matoso management explained that the dismissals were made for organizational purposes.
“We have been restructuring the company for the long term sustainability of the business,” a company spokesperson said.
In regard to the ‘unauthorized dismissals’, the spokesperson said that all the contracts ended were mutually agreed on by the company and the staff.
“(…) 53 staff members finalized their contracts with the company, more than 60% of them were management vacancies, with which there has been a mutual agreement made to end the contracts. In any case, the retirement packages overcomes the established by existing labor legislation,” said the company in their statement, “Cerro Matoso validates its compromise with the social and economic development of the Alto San Jorge region and of Colombia.”
Cerro Matoso: Not the first controversy
The alleged unauthorized mass dismissal has not been the only complaint the multinational received as in 2013 a group of 6,000 indigenous protested for two weeks against health damages that say are caused by the heavy mining as reported by Colombian news-magazine Semana.
The protesters claimed that the various health epidemics facing their communities are the result of chemical residue from the mine, the world’s second-largest open-pit ferronickel operation, and that 30 years of pollution have rendered their lands inhabitable and poisoned their water.
- Cerro Matoso communique (Sent to Colombia Reports)
- Interview with Sintracerromatoso director Dominguez Hernandez (Colombia Reports)
- Communique signed by Alejandro Quintana, sent by Sinatracerromatoso (Sent to Colombia Reports)
- Sintracerromatoso bulletin (Union Facebook Page)
- Cerro Matoso: mina rica, pueblo pobre (Semana)
- UPDATE 1-Colombia’s Cerro Matoso ferronickel mine partly reopens (Reuters)
- Sindicato de Cerromatoso denuncia despido de trabajadores (Caracol Radio)