Seven members of the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colmotores (ASOTRECOL) have sewn their mouths shut and started an indefinite hunger strike until General Motors meet their demands.
Between 2008 and 2011, General Motors in Columbia fired many workers who sustained injuries during the course of their work.
Work related injuries were widespread throughout the factory. Workers developed repetitive strain injuries, affecting hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders – as well as spinal injuries due to heavy lifting, and hands being ripped off in machinery.
Like in many workplaces, injuries became a more regular occurrence; the more the bosses demanded increased speed and productivity.
Also, workers report that they have developed cancers, and lung conditions due to the lack of safety measures provided for working with highly toxic and dangerous chemicals.
As soon as General Motors discovered workers had got injured at work, they quickly dismissed them, with no compensation.
General Motors deny any link between injuries and dismissal. The bosses claim that they fired workers due to performance, rather than any injuries. They even claim that workers do not receive injuries at work, and that workers must have been injured at home, and then claimed them to be work related.
The workers dispute this claim, and state that dismissals involved falsified documents and intimidation, often with the involvement of corrupt factory inspectors.
Workers claim that they are prevented from filling in the accident book so that they companies safety record is not affected.
General Motors staff are forced to work overtime, usually twelve hour days, for six or seven days a week. Refusal will mean the termination of a workers contract.
“Very few of the former GM workers have been able to certify their injuries as “occupational,” which they attribute to GM’s influence over state agencies, as well as the fact that the workers’ medical records remain in the hands of the company (which has not responded to their requests for copies of their records). In one case, a worker discretely filmed his work on the assembly line with a cell phone and demonstrated that the repetition and speed demanded of his position lead to his injuries.”
Former General Motor’s workers have found it very difficult to get new jobs due to their injuries and disabilities. The workers who were able to prove their injuries to be occupational have been virtually blacklisted.
To end the hunger strike - ASOTRECOL demands that General Motors agree to:
1) Recognise their injuries as occupational.
2) Assume the costs of the corresponding medical treatment.
3) Pay pensions or disability to those who are so severely injured that they can no longer work or can only work part-time.
4) Compensate workers for the economic damage that they have suffered, including lost wages and lost homes.
The hunger strike is now in its second week, and General Motors continue to ignore the worker’s demands.