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Open Letter from the Portworkers Union of Colombia

The following is an open letter from the Portworkers Union of Colombia regarding their ongoing negotiations with CIAMSA, a company that exports sugar from the Buenaventura port. The original Spanish version can be found below this translation.



This past August 14, 36 portworkers out of the 350 employees who directly work for CIAMSA in Buenaventura presented a list of demands via the union PORTWORKERS UNION OF COLOMBIA, with the following goals being the most important:

1.  Complimentary meals halfway through each shift with 30 minutes to eat.  Surely you must recognize that CIAMSA is the only port operator in Buenaventura that does not provide meals to its workers nor enough time to consume these meals.

2.  No racial discrimination in the workplace, especially because cases of racial discrimination are frequent when vacancies arise in higher-paying positions.  When one of our workers carries out the functions of a high-paying job, instead of appointing us to the position, they instead give us the order to teach others the job, usually people who come from Cali or the country’s interior region, in all cases, people with lighter skin.

3.  Direct hiring by CIAMSA of over 200 workers who have been lending their services to CIAMSA through different subcontractors that have been avoiding paying workers’ social security and benefits for many years.  Surely you are all aware of the extreme subcontracting that occurs, even within CIAMSA’s own operations.  The most recent failed experiment was contracting Fundación Carvajal to create two companies for subcontracted workers as a supposed show of entrepreneurship.

4.  Appointment of necessary personnel because we have been working with 2/3 of the necessary workforce which denies us our right to scheduled and compensated breaks.  We have had to work up to nine consecutive night shifts, and being overworked has negatively impacted our quality of life and our families’ stability due to this overload.

5.  Leveling out of salaries and appointment to specific positions.  We are carrying out the work of several different positions simultaneously yet they pay us in accordance with the lowest position’s salary and then indefinitely postpone appointment or promotion.

6.  Constitution of an Employee Fund that allows us to save and support the company to access the national government’s housing programs, especially because most of us lack housing.The conversations began on September 9, but ever since CIAMSA received the list of demands, Mr. Gerardo Porras, CIAMSA’s negotiator, has dedicated himself to intimidating and offering loans to workers to encourage their disaffiliation from the union. 

It is also for your knowledge that CIAMSA put forth a proposal before the Ministry of Labor in Buenaventura, Cali, and Bogotá to avoid sitting down for negotiations. However, the Ministry of Labor ordered them to do so. It is worth remembering that portworkers are part of the five priority sectors that unions in North America included in the Obama-Santos Labor Action Plan and therefore monitoring is permanently carried out by the authorities of both governments regarding our working conditions.  The constant official delegations to Buenaventura by officials of both governments are proof of this. We invoke the existence of this bilateral monitoring to advance the issues in our list of demands that this same company recognizes as lacking.The research carried out by the National Center for Historical Memory, completed this year and titled “Buenaventura: a Port without Community,” signals that labor insecurity is the main cause of the social crisis in Buenaventura.  CIAMSA has a responsibility to work to better this insecurity.

 We invite CIAMSA to lead a Labor Formalization Plan along with the city’s other large logistical operators and port operators in order to benefit over 10,000 workers from both sectors.  We also must begin to reverse the tendency to fill thousands of jobs in the public and private sectors with people who do not live in Buenaventura. With respect to the sanction that the Industry and Commerce Superintendent placed upon CIAMSA and other companies in the sugar sector, unfortunately there exists no channel of communication between CIAMSA and its workers that would allow us to learn the details at the root of this matter.  Mr. Porras said at the negotiations that it is a strong sanction and it must be paid. Surely he said this because CIAMSA, in addition to exporting sugar and honey from the refineries, is a shareholder of the Buenaventura Port Society and lends its logistical and port services to different exporters and importers with its broad infrastructure in Buenaventura. The conversations will end this upcoming October 19 and unfortunately Mr. Gerardo Porras has dedicated himself more to intimidating and insulting than to reaching an agreement.  His latest great deed was that of holding an extra meeting between affiliates and negotiators from the union, and seeing as how they dared to speak against him, he fired the workers Eleazar González Boucha and Ricardo Hurtado Ospina.  Furthermore, Mr. Porras, to mock the negotiations, began to partially and unilaterally recognize some of the points on the list of demands:  15 minutes to eat without providing food, scheduled compensated breaks but without authorizing the payment owed to us, and new changes with respect to our jobs and resumes, but he clarifies and emphasizes that not one case will be officially agreed upon. Are these the guidelines from CIAMSA’s directors for resolving a list of demands?We ask for the immediate reintegration of our fired coworkers. Negotiating CommitteeCesar Augusto Gualteros  Jhonny Tovar MosqueraFerney

Enrique AnguloNational Board of Directors of the Portworkers Union 📷 National President       📷 General Secretary

Buenaventura, October 13, 2015


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