Union Sindical Obrera (USO) was forced to suspend its work in Puerto Gaitan, Meta in 2011 due to a wave of antiunion violence and repression in which its leaders were threatened, beaten and murdered. Community leaders from Puerto Gaitan, where Canadian multinational Pacific Rubiales Energy (PRE) extracts more than 210,000 barrels of oil daily from its largest concession alone, have suffered similar human rights violations and are denied employment. Land grabs, forcible displacement and hunger are other issues that affect the region.
In 2011, thousands of striking workers asked USO to collective represent them during negotiations with employers. The union bargained with PRE winning significant wage increases and vast improvement in housing/food services for the region’s workers. Violence and threats, however, forced USO to leave Puerto Gaitan. Subsequently PRE formed a company union (UTEN) and refused to hire any worker not affiliated, blacklisting thousands who had previously joined USO. In addition, the Colombian military acted in concert with Pacific Rubiales’ private security forces to physically prevent USO from entering the region (on public roads). Even a delegation organized by Colombian Senator Alexander Lopez was turned back (VIDEO) by agents of the armed forces who indicated that they responded only to the orders of ‘the company’.
PASO has partnered with Canadian union UNIFOR to accompany USO’s campaign to return to Puerto Gaitan, where some 20,000 oil workers live in almost complete isolation. Over the past several months, with the support and cooperation of the international labor movement, the United States and Canadian Embassies, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and the Colombian government, PASO and USO have been able to travel in the region and speak to hundreds of workers, the vast majority of whom earn significantly less than industry standards and lack legally-established pension and healthcare coverage. USO is also working with local communities who are concerned about environmental damage, corruption, lack of social investment, and lack of employment for local residents.
(Above) PASO also visited Schlumberger workers in Meta on strike for wage increases and local jobs. Workers have stopped all Colombian operations at the Texas-based multinational since Monday. Schlumberger employs some 700 workers in Colombia.