100 oil workers fired for going on strike


Amnesty International says that concern for the security of trade unionists in Colombia is heightened, after more killings. 100 members of oil workers' union fired for participating in a strike. Reports of arrests, death threats and other forms of harassment.

On Wednesday, the ICEM, a 20 million member strong international federation of chemical, energy and mine workers strongly criticized the Colombian government for its brutal attempts to break a month-long strike at Ecopetrol, Colombia's national oil company.

Expressing support to the Colombian oil workers' union USO, ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs stated in a letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that Colombia's use of "armed military personnel in and around Ecopetrol's petroleum facilities has escalated the conflict," making it even more difficult to resolve.

To date, some 100 USO members and leaders have been fired for participating in the strike. There are reports of arrests, death threats and other forms of harassment against USO trade unionists and supporters.

The Uribe government declared the 22 April strike illegal, citing petroleum refining as an "essential service" in Colombia. In a 30 April letter to President Uribe, Higgs and the ICEM asserted the government was wrong: ILO has traditionally ruled on cases in terms of oil refining not classified "essential service."

The USO strike against Ecopetrol is over the government's restructuring of oil reserves and production in which rewritten contracts have been awarded to several of the oil multinationals creating more favorable terms.

The union contends such policies will rob Colombia of the wealth from its natural resources and is the initial move toward selling off Ecopetrol. USO is also seeking a new collective wage agreement through the strike, something the government and company claim will not be addressed.

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. Amnesty International reiterated its fears for the safety of trade unionists in this country, following the recent shooting of three family members of Coca-Cola union leader Efrain Guerrero, by gunmen linked to security forces.

According to Amnesty International, ”the concern for the security of trade unionists in Colombia is heightened, not only by these latest killings, but by the on-going failure to bring to justice those who kill and threaten trade unionists.”