Colmbian oil workers union USO have warned that Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales could see a repeat of last September’s protests that brought production grinding to a halt if the company pull out of negotiations with contracted workers next week.
USO President Rodolfo Vecino spoke to Colombia Reports on Friday after the conclusion of a four-day “Humanitarian Action” caravan, which saw over 500 people from more than 50 unions and social movements travel to the troubled town of Puerto Gaitan, stopping in communities affected by the oil company on the way.
Vecino said the aim of the caravan was to “bring the voice of solidarity to the workers and communities” as well as highlighting the conditions in labor camps and rural communities and discussing negotiations with the workers.
As the caravan prepared to set out over the weekend, Pacific Rubiales announced they had reached a union agreement establishing a minimum wage, set shift patterns and a program of improving working conditions.
However, USO and another union involved in the caravan, CUT, did not sign the agreement. According to USO, the union that signed, UTEN, was established only to represent the minority of workers directly employed by the company.
Vecino said, “There has been this situation where Pacific Rubiales had a union that has intervened and [the company] has set a trap where they affiliate workers directly employed by the company to this union.”
According to USO, UTEN has 700 members, while USO has 5,000 and claims to represent 12,000 workers who are contracted by the oil giants.
Vecino said USO had submitted six negotiating points to the company and so far they have only discussed one.
On Wednesday, the union is due to meet with company and government representatives once more. Vecino said the meeting will “define whether Pacific Rubiales is going to continue at the negotiating table and consider the demands of the workers or if it will definitively retire from the table.”
According to the unionist, if the negotiations fail the company could see more protests, the last of which cost the Colombian state an estimated $10 million and the company much more.
Vecino said, “the workers are protesting because undoubtedly they [the company] are not leaving them any choice and maybe, doing these protests and these marches they will pay more attention and they will respect [workers] rights.”