Oil Workers’ Protest Camp Attacked and Set Ablaze

News from Colombia | on: Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Oil Workers Demonstrate

Oil Workers Demonstrate

USO, the Colombian Oil Workers’ Union has reported that oil workers assembled in a peaceful protest in Puerto Gaitan, Meta department were attacked by Colombian riot police firing tear gas, baton rounds and throwing stun grenades and pipe bombs, resulting in several workers being injured, one of whom lost an eye.

The dispute is centred on workers contracted to Pacific Rubiales Energy, who have been protesting against the company’s refusal to negotiate a series of labour issues with them at two sites in Rubiales and Quifo.

The workers protest that their labour rights are being violated, that the company has fixed low wages unilaterally and that workers are poorly treated and kept in unhealthy conditions in their work camps. On the 18th July workers at the two sites called in reps from the USO, who left the nearest town, Puerto Gaitan at 10.30am. However, on the way to the sites the union reps were blocked by security guards employed by the company who had blocked the road with trucks and a bulldozer. Eventually the union reps managed to negotiate their way through the blockade, arriving at the camp in the early evening.

They found over 4 thousand workers assembled, heard their many complaints, and took photos to corroborate what they were being told. A meeting was arranged between the union and government and representatives of Pacific Rubiales, but the company refused to participate in it. Meanwhile the government demanded that the workers call off the protest.

The following morning at 5am riot police attacked the camp firing rubber bullets and tear gas and even throwing home-made pipe bombs. Tents were set alight by the bombs, which caused chaos in the camp and several workers were injured. Having been expelled from the oil installations, the workers and the USO are not being allowed to return by Pacific Rubiales.

In a declaration the USO has said that “violence is not the solution to the problem” and demands that the government provide the necessary conditions for the free and unhindered exercise of trade union activity. The protest continues, and the USO has said that it will lift the protest as long as there is no retaliation of any kind against the workers involved in the dispute, and as long as the company and the government agree to meet with the union to discuss the worker’s demands.

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