Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chained inside an armoured vehicle

Involved with direct action in the UK I am use to seeing security guards as obstacles and potential problems. I spent yesterday with a group of secuirty guards who spend their lives tranporting large quantities amounts of money around in armoured vehicles, dangerous work in Colombia. If they transported people around, solidarity would be more complicated.

A year ago Eyder and Carlos decided to join Sintrabrinks, the national union that organises workers Brinks de Colombia, an affiliate of Brinks Ltd, a global security company. Eyder joined after he was repeatedly refused permission to attend a court case. If he didn’t attend he would be arrested, if he attended he would be sacked. Employees’ work 13 out of every 14 days and sometimes they are denied this day off. Their working day varies from 12 – 15hours. Family time is a fleeting glimpse of a child sleeping, a wife tired but waiting up. Life is lived inside an armoured vehicle.

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 reported that between 2005 and 2007 “overseas revenue grew by 38%, due largely to rapid growth in Latin America … driven by increased demand, lower service costs and increased margins”

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.

“I don’t join the union as I see how they persecute you”.

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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Please bcc in espaciobristol at in so we can pass news on to them.

1 comment:

croggy said...

I have just looked at my visitor paths. Brinks ( have read the post I wrote ´Chained inside an armoured vehicle´. They also downloaded one of the photos, not the group one but the close up of two of them.

This makes me uneasy. I do not imagine it is to go in the family album. While the guys told me they were happy for me to use their real names and photos, and the managment know who they are, this si Colombia, where ordinary people are killed regularly because of their organising work.

I have asked a few people what they think, and adivce was that it is ok:
1: they are doing nothing wrong
2:they are visible and known to the company already

But Brinks, if you would care to tell me why you downloaded the photo it would put me more at ease.