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Image courtesy of Union Sindical Obrera del la Industrial del Petroleo.

The Union Sindical Obrera del la Industrial del Petroleo (USO), Colombia’s largest oil workers’ union, said Friday an indefinite strike could begin March 19, a week earlier than previously stated.

Union leader Edwin Castano had previously said the strike would begin sometime after March 26.

Colombia’s state owned Ecopetrol, the largest producer in the country, said it has a contingency plan in place to maintain normal operations if the strike is called.

The USO approved the strike action earlier this month to protest layoffs in Colombia’s oil sector and Ecopetrol’s reported plans to sell some assets in response to low oil prices, Reuters said.

According to the USO about 10,000 workers have been laid off since oil prices began plummeting last year.

“Workers are not accepting that this situation be blamed on the price scenario … Oil policy has been badly handled in recent years. They have given tax breaks to companies. Today they are seeking to fire personnel,” Castano said.

Strikes at Ecopetrol are technically prohibited under Colombian law because the firm provides a public service.

Union members are also concerned that the government could sell more stakes in state owned Ecopetrol.

Ecopetrol employees about 2,400 USO members.

Other union members work as contractors for Ontario-based Pacific Rubiales.