17 August 20 -After more than two decades of struggle against labour repression, dockers in Colombia have at last settled on their first ever collective bargaining agreement with their terminal employer.
The port workers, members of the ITF-affiliated Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Transporte (SNTT), reached the agreement on 2 August with Terminal Maritimo Muelles el Bosque in Cartagena de Indias. The workers had not been permitted to bargain collectively for some 20 years, ever since the César Gaviria government began to implement a programme to privatise Colombia’s ports. Trade unions were not allowed to operate and workers suffered the consequences of the use of outsourced labour and the establishment of employer-led cooperatives, which, in practice, were labour supply companies.
However, supported by the trade union centre Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia and the ITF, the dockers, who had set up their own union, saw off these anti-union attacks and the union subsequently merged with the SNTT. Soon a set of demands was presented to the port employer, and the SNTT executive board and company management signed the collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement provides the workers with wage increases, annual leave, a fund for housing and educating workers’ children as well as other benefits. Esteban Barboza, SNTT general secretary, commented: “After 20 years of struggle, we have achieved an historic event that will benefit workers’ and their families’ quality of life. We will continue working to encourage all dockers to organise in all Colombia’s ports to end the workforce’s almost slavery-like conditions.”
Terminal Maritimo Muelles el Bosque operates two ports, one in the Cartagena de Indias Bay and another in Buenaventura. The company is set to merge with Argos Group, a prominent Colombian conglomerate.