USO oil workers union condemns mass lay-offs at state oil company

The USO union for workers in Colombia’s oil industry, including the state-owned company Ecopetrol, has announced the creation of a fund to support workers and communities that have been economically impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The union said it hoped that companies, affiliates, trade unionists and international supporters would contribute to the fund, with the aim of reaching one billion Colombian pesos (around £200,000).

The move comes after 1,500 employees at Ecopetrol’s principal oil refinery in the city of Barrancabermeja were removed from their roles. Ecopetrol denied any responsibility and said none of its direct employees were removed. The company attributed the lay-offs to subsidiaries that outsource work to thousands of oil workers. USO said that at least 3,500 more subcontractors could face a similar fate.

With Colombia gripped by the coronavirus crisis, USO has called the lay-offs a ‘labour massacre’. ‘It is very serious and a great mistake that Ecopetrol has ordered its outsourcing companies to dismiss more than 5,000 workers amid a pandemic, without authorisation or verification from the Ministry of Labor of causes of force majeure,’ said USO president Edwin Palma.

As with countries around the world, Colombia has taken urgent measures to minimise the spread of the coronavirus, including closing its air and land borders and imposing curfews across much of the country. Currently, there are more than 700 confirmed cases in the country, with the figure certain to rise.