This vehicle becomes their home. Constantly refused permission to leave the vehicle to go to the toilet, a plastic bag becomes their bathroom. There is no flush, ventilation or door between the other two colleagues. The smell of urine and dirty money fills the vehicle where they sometimes must eat their lunch. Trying to maintain some dignity, they avoid drinking fluids. Dehydration follows.
Brinks de Colombia has a policy of switching routes, driver, security and money handler every day to reduce surveillance and the likelihood of a robbery. When Carlos and Eyder affiliated to Sintrabrinks, they were put together every day for the next three months on the same route. The risk of a union is a greater threat than being robbed for the Multinational.
On the 22nd April 2007 they were attacked by a group of men. Eyder told me how Carlos reacted bravely, doing his job to protect the company’s money, and prevented the loss of any money. However he was shot in the neck and lost movement in his arms and his legs. He has since regained some movement in his arms but is completely paralysed from the waist down. He received $240 in compensation from the company.
More recently, three employees Uberle Pungo, Eduar Vivas and Robinson Tamayo were suddenly sacked. Pungo was thinking about affiliating. Vivas and Tamayo had both just affiliated to Sintrabrinks. They told me how they were offered $5000 each if they withdrew their affiliation. They refused.
Most of Brink’s employees are ex-soldiers. In the army unionist means communist which means guerilla, the enemy. In Brinks a little more than a year ago, union was a dirty forbidden word. When Carlos and Eyder unionised and began to talk with their colleague’s, people stopped sitting with them in the cafeteria and were unreceptive. Today´s protest shows views have shifted - in the small windows of every vehicle that came in and out of the compound, we received smiling faces and thumbs up. “They now recognise that what we are demanding is fair and just. The company only cares about its economic wellbeing while our wellbeing is ignored” Eyder tells me.
Last Saturday Eyder was given a letter, telling his that he was not to return to work due to his ‘emotional state’. They will continue to pay him. Eyder is clear that this is an illegal political act. They are trying to isolate him.
Brinks is not worried about losing Eyder´s labour in the short term. They are worried about his gentle but clear words which have the power and wisdom to effect their profit margins. Their long-term aim is apparent; destroy any union activity.
The small union branch know that the workers support them but there is much fear. Eyder describes to me what he has found through joining the union. Despite the incessant descrimination, he feels calm. The anger and frustration at the total control his job has over his life is now channeled in to his organising work. He confided in me, when alone, that even though they don’t talk about it he knows that both Brinks and the Government have links with ‘dangerous people’ and that what he and the others are doing is risky. Yet he feels happier than he has for many years. He is not keeping his head down. He is demanding respect and decent working conditions for him and his colleagues.
Living with dignity. Worth much more than the risks.
If you get bored of Christmas merrities and would like to send a letter to Brinks that would be very appreciated by the guys I met yesterday. They repeatedly thanked me for listening to them and offering to write about what I learnt.
For the moment they are fighting for the:
Reinstation of sacked workers and compensation for loss of earnings.
Respect for all employees’ rights to free association.
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