Colombian Ministry of Labour authorizes mass dismissal in the César mining region


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On 17 May, the Colombian Ministry of Labour issued a resolution in response to a request to the Territorial Directorate of the Atlantic by the legal representative of the Prodeco company, Xavier Redvern Wagner, in which it resolved the termination of 247 contracts of the 644 that the company had presented on the list.

This decision, far from being fair, puts the region's economy in check; although the Ministry asked the company to pay compensation, benefits and other certain workers’ rights, this decision will affect hundreds of families, leaving them without a main livelihood. Remember that 39% of Cesar's GDP depends on the extraction of this fossil fuel.

After examining the application, the Ministry of Labour accepted the collective dismissal due to the partial and definitive closure of work by Prodeco. For its part, the Ministry asked the company to respect the reinforced labour stability protected by different jurisdictions in accordance with the provisions of Article 406 of Law 361 of 1997 and Article 204 of the Substantive Colombian Labour Code.

Is closing operations really justified?

The Prodeco and La Jagua chamber of commerce show that the companies are currently operational and are not in a liquidation process. According to Diana Herrera, Labour lawyer, the handing over of a mining title is not an objective reason to authorize the mass dismissal of workers. Glencore continues to own Prodeco and Cerrejón mine, which means that they could guarantee workers contracts through Cerrejón.

The Ministry of Labour must be consistent with the law’s meaning, since Law 50 of 1990 of the Substantive of Labour Code clearly indicates what the objective causes are to be able to terminate the contractual relationship with the workers.

In response to resolution 1659, workers have the right to appeal, i.e. they can go to the Ministry so that their case can be assessed by a second party, to determine whether their contract was rightfully terminated. Since this company is still in operation, it could be demonstrated that Prodeco has the power to relocate employees, taking into account the activity they were carrying out.

The importance of ratifying ILO Convention 158

Colombia has signed and ratified many International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions; however, it has not ratified ILO Convention No 158, which is the only general international regulation on dismissals. By ratifying this Convention, it would protect workers from the consequences of anti-union practices such as mass dismissals. This Convention states that:

“Multinationals, when they anticipate changes in operations (including those resulting from mergers, acquisitions of undertakings or transfers of production) which may have significant effects on employment, should give reasonable advance notice of these changes to the competent governmental authorities and to representatives of their workers and their organizations, so that the implications can be jointly examined to work towards mitigating the adverse effects as much as possible.”

In addition to the non-ratification of international agreements that promote democracy and the protection of human rights, the impact of this measure by the multinational Glencore highlights the lack of political will on the part of Colombian government bodies towards the protection and fundamental rights of workers.

Workers united with a purpose

Because of the abuses committed by Glencore against the rights of its miners, Luis Fernando Ramirez, president of Sintraminergetica (La Jagua branch), spoke on 28 April 2022 at Glencore's annual shareholders' meeting in Switzerland. The company, contrary to recognizing the human rights violations, was on the defensive:

“We understand our Prodeco team has been engaging with you [Sintraminergetica] and that since December, there were 3 meetings, including with members of the Ministry of Labour and union representatives. Prodeco looks forward to continuing this engagement with yourself, the government and unions.”

Faced with the consequences of the decision of the Ministry of Labour, workers must stand up and organize themselves to avoid multinationals from trampling over their rights. The Workers’ Collective for a Just Transition, including Sintracerrejón, Sintracarbón, Sintradrummond, Sintradem and Sintramienergética, reject the decision of the Ministry of Labour, and in the coming days will release a public statement ratifying its position and support for the 247 workers who find themselves in limbo.

Publication date 22 08 2022