Another Drummond Mine Worker Dies in Preventable Accident

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 30 January 2011

On January 22nd Oscar Rodriguez Calderon, a 37 year-old mine worker at Drummond’s Pribbenow mine, died after falling from the cabin of the excavator he was operating 3 days earlier on January 19th. The accident caused severe head injuries, and sent him into a coma from which he did not recover.

Oscar Rodriguez Calderon’s death comes despite the long struggle of the SINTRAMIENERGETICA union, and the CUT to convince Drummond to implement adequate safety measures and training systems. In the last ten years 17 workers have died in preventable accidents at work in Drummond’s operations. 7 other workers have died through occupational diseases, and another 700 workers continue to work despite having developed these diseases through the failure of the firm to apply regulations inscribed in Colombian law.

Occupational safety continues to be an issue. So far this year three workers have been injured at the mine. Several of those killed in the past have been dump truck drivers hired through sub-contracting companies who were not given adequate training in managing these immense and cumbersome vehicles. Such was the case of Dagoberto Clavijo Barranco, who had worked at the mine for 32 days before the truck he was driving slipped into the mine, crushing him to death on March 23rd 2009. Others, like Oscar Rodriguez, have died through a lack of safety equipment. These conditions have forced SINTRAMIENERGETICA to be at the forefront of highlighting these issues, bringing them into conflict with the owners of the mine and its coal-exporting port.

Drummond has had a very negative attitude towards trade unions in its operations in Colombia. In order to get Drummond to apply the legal norms required of the company, SINTRAMIENERGETICA has attempted to meet with the company, but lack of cooperation has led them to industrial action and event to taking the company to court. Another union which organises the workers on the railway taking coal from the mine to the port had to fight even to be recognised by the company. This, together with the death of Dagoberto Clavijo Barranco, led to a mass strike in Drummond’s operations, with more than 9 thousand workers involved. However, the company continues to fire trade unionists and ignores complaints about working conditions. Even more worrying are allegations that that the company executives have been involved in assassinations of union members.

In March 2001 Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya, the President and Vice-President of SINTRAMINIENERGETICA were killed by paramilitaries linked to the food distribution contractor at the mine. The paramilitary jailed for their killing alleges that both Colombian and US company executives at the mine participated in planning the killings, but as yet nobody else has been prosecuted - although in September 2010, Jaime Blanco Maya, the brother of the former Colombian Inspector General was arrested as part of the investigation into their murders. In September 2001 their replacement in the leadership was also shot and killed. Two other members of SINTRAMINIENERGETICA’s leadership were also killed in the same year.

More recently union workers at Drummond’s operations have also been victims of threats. For example, in May 2010 Angel Oswaldo Herrera, another trade unionist in the mine, who had participated in negotiations, was threatened with death by motorbike-riding paramilitaries. On the 14th of July 2010 Esteban Padilla, a member of SINTRAMINIERGETICA’s leadership, and a worker at the Drummond mine, was victim of an assassination attempt that left him seriously wounded and also wounded his bodyguard when two men on a motorbike drew up alongside his vehicle and opened fire. On the 26th of October 2010 William Tafur Velasquez, a trade unionist and worker at the Pribbenow mine was shot and killed.

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