Protest blocks access to key Colombia oil field
* Rubiales is the largest producing field in Colombia
* Protesters demanding jobs for people in the area
BOGOTA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Protesters are blocking access to a major oil field in eastern Colombia operated by Canada's Pacific Rubiales to demand the company employs more people from neighboring areas, a trade union leader said on Friday.
Protests against oil and mining companies are fairly common in Latin America's No. 4 oil producer, with local communities seeking jobs or compensation for damages, and workers complaining about working conditions and pay.
"What's happening today in Puerto Gaitan ... is that we've got a problem in relation to local work force," local trade union leader Henry Jara told reporters, after confirming that protesters were blocking access to the field.
Rubiales is the largest producing field in Colombia with output around 175,000 barrels per day (bpd). Pacific Rubiales (PRE.TO) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jara said that rather than employing people from Puerto Gaitan or other towns in the Meta region, oil companies are sacking workers that decide to join trade unions.
However, industry sources said most locals lack the necessary qualifications to work in the oil industry.
It was not clear whether the blockade was disrupting the transport of crude oil from the field. In mid-July, Colombian oil contractors protested Rubiales forcing the company to briefly halt operations. [ID:nN1E76I1CY]
Nationally, the Andean country produces over 900,000 bpd, mostly of heavy crude oil from the Llanos Basin heavy oil belt where the Rubiales field is located.
Once dismissed as a failing state mired in drug violence and guerrilla war, Colombia is enjoying a flood of foreign investment that have allowed the country to boost oil and coal production to record highs.
However, despite being at their weakest level in decades, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have launched a string of attacks against oil companies in recent weeks. [ID:nN1E7760BJ]
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta: Writing by Eduardo Garcia;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)