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23 May 2022

María Paula Lizarazo, Diálogo Chino

Colombia: China's Zijin Mining faces strikes over Covid and employment guarantees; incl. company response

Ernst Udo Drawert/Diálogo Chino

"Zijin’s difficult days in Buriticá" 23 May 2022

Hundreds of people wearing white t-shirts to indicate their pacifism protested against Chinese mining company Zijin in Buriticá town square on 9 February this year. This municipality of 10,000 inhabitants, located in Colombia’s northwestern Antioquia department, historically lives off agriculture and informal mining. On that day, as on previous occasions over the past two years, its residents showed their discontent with the company that owns one of Colombia’s largest and most significant gold mines. [...]

However, since Zijin's management began, three strikes have taken place in the municipality. The first was in March 2020, a few days after Covid-19 lockdowns began in Colombia. The second was in October 2021, which ended with the intervention of Esmad, the anti-riot squad. February’s was the third. The municipality’s various demands have not permitted the Chinese company to work without interruption. [...]

Accusations against Zijin

[...] A miner who worked for Zijin says that the first strike took place because while the whole country went into confinement "and everyone was locked up, they [Zijin] were working as if nothing had happened. This strike was to demand that they respect the quarantine". He also complains that his contract was not renewed because he took part in the protests. "They are putting in more personnel from China and they are not taking into account the people of the area," added the interviewee, who asked to remain anonymous.

Another informal miner interviewed by Diálogo Chino said that a further reason for the stoppages was the lack of employment guarantees and support from the multinational for projects in the municipality. In 2021, the unemployment rate in Buriticá was 5.23% compared to a nationwide average of 14.7%. However, the gold-rich municipality’s rate of informality was 79.6%.

In response to these allegations, Zijin told Diálogo Chino that they maintained their work during the pandemic "because mining activity was framed within the exceptions decreed at the time by the national government" and a biosecurity protocol they presented to relevant authorities was approved. Similar permissions that allowed for continued mining operations during Covid-19 lockdowns were granted to companies in other Latin American countries, including Peru and Ecuador.

In terms of jobs, the company says it employs 3,885 direct workers and contractors. "63.7% of operational personnel and apprentices are from the municipality of Buriticá and the mine's area of influence," says Sergio Petro, Zijin's head of public affairs and director of sustainability in Colombia. He added that there were no dismissals for participating in the protests and that only 4.8% of the company's personnel are Chinese nationals, who "came to Colombia to carry out well-defined tasks that require specific experience". [...]