Bolivia: Sacked trade unionists appeal for your international support

In Bolivia, it is illegal for any employer to discriminate against a portion of its workforce by creating two-tiered labor conditions.

Yet every day, approximately 300 contract workers at the Gualberto Villarroel oil refinery in Cochabamba, Bolivia find themselves at on the bottom end of a blatantly two-tiered labor system. While the contract workers have short-term contracts ranging from 3 months to 2 years, the workers who do mostly supervisory and managerial work have permanent contracts. While the contract workers are paid poverty wages ranging from 500-800 Bolivianos/month ($62.50-$100 USD/month), the permanent workers are paid salaries ranging from 7,800-90,000 Bolivianos/month ($975-$11,250 USD/month). And while the permanent workers are unionized, when the contract workers formed their own union, the Sindicato Mixto de Trabajadores Gualberto Villarroel, the leaders and most active members of this union were fired. To date, 32 union leaders and workers have been fired and remain without jobs.

When the first wave of firings took place 8 months ago, the Gualberto Villarroel refinery was owned by Petrobras, a Brazilian state-run transnational corporation. The workers petitioned the government and after months of being ignored were finally told that things would change once Evo Morales’ MAS government took control of the refinery. More than two months have now passed since the government purchased the refineries on May 11th and absolutely nothing has changed. The MAS government continues to violate its own law by maintaining the two-tiered working conditions at the Gualberto Villarroel refinery.

In the last two months, the Gualberto Villarroel contract workers have written formal letters to MAS government officials asking for a meeting to make their demands heard. Later, they went to La Paz to ask in person for a meeting. Every attempt at contact has been ignored by the MAS government. On July 9th, they sent one final letter to both the Hydrocarbons Minister and the president of the state-run oil company, the YPFB (which now controls the Gualberto Villarroel refinery), warning that they will take direct action if their demands continue to be ignored. Many of the fired union leaders and workers have resolved to go to La Paz and begin a hunger strike at a set time early next week to force the government meet the following demands:

  • All fired union leaders and workers must be immediately rehired.
  • The national labor laws prohibiting two-tiered working conditions must be respected.
  • All temporary contract workers must be signed to permanent contracts.
  • The right to unionize must be respected.

The CWI-Bolivia has been in close contact with the Gualberto Villarroel contract workers in recent months and is committed to supporting these workers as they enter into struggle. The CWI-Bolivia, at the request of the fired union leaders and workers of the Gualberto Villaroel oil refinery, asks that union leaders, workers, and members of the CWI assist them in their struggle by sending solidarity letters of protest to the following Bolivian government officials:

Evo Morales, President of the Republic of Bolivia

Carlos Villegas, Hydrocarbons Minister

Guillermo Arequipa
President of Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB)

Fax: (591-2) 2356540 – 2373375

Please send copies of the letters to the CWI-Bolivia so they can be displayed publicly by the Gualberto Villarroel contract workers during their hunger strike:

In solidarity,

Union leaders of the Sindicato Mixto de Trabajadores Petroleros Gualberto Villarroel:

Angelo Saldias, Secretario General

Ladislao Aguilar, Secretario Relaciones

Edwin Higueras, Secretario Conflictos

David Barrancos, Secretario Organización

Jose Soto, Secretario Actas

José Estevez, Secretario Hacienda

Jaime Ledesma, Secretario Deportes

Richard Saavedra, Secretario Vivienda

Fernando Mogro, Vocal 1

Wilsdon Mejia, Vocal 2

Marco Rocha, Vocal 3

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