MAC: Mines and Communities

Global trade unions demand sustainability and justice

Published by MAC on 2010-07-04
Source: Rabble, Radio Australia, statements

The world's leading mineworkers' federation, the ICEM,  alongside the International Metalworkers Federation, has issued a "sustainable development" declaration.

This seeks to "create secure green jobs, reach a binding agreement on greenhouse gases, and to fully involve unions and civil society organizations in any bilateral or multilateral trade agreements".

The ICEM has also re-affirmed support for workers striking against Vale in Canada, and against Grupo Mexico in its home country.

This follows the Federation's condemnation, earlier this year, of "blatant abuses of freedom of association" by subsidiary mining enterprises of AngloGold Ashanti and Barrick Gold in Tanzania.

Global trade unions demand sustainability from G8/G20 leaders

By Michelle Langlois

21 June 2010

The health of the world's economy depends on the health of the world's workers, and the time is long overdue for the world's policymakers to listen to them.

This is the message trade unionists and environmentalists from around the globe wanted to send to world leaders when the former two groups met in Toronto this past weekend to demand environmental, social, and economic sustainability in advance of the G8/G20 summit. The World Conference on Sustainability was organized by two Geneva-based global trade union federations, ICEM, and IMF, and was well attended by Canadian labour activists and leaders.

The consensus of the conference was that it is impossible to achieve environmental and financial sustainability unless social sustainability is also included, with secure jobs and social safety nets. Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, spoke about the importance of the role of organized labour in the process. "There can be no sustainability at any level unless we have a strong, active, and engaged labour movement," he said. "If [those who created the current economic crisis] can weaken or erode the labour movement, then their next step is the social justice movements. And their next step is total dominance of their ideology."

Monica Veloso, Vice President of the National Confederation of Metalworkers in Brazil, stressed the importance of workers participating in the public regulation of the economy. "We need to overcome the development models that overexploit labour, destroy the environment, and create food, social, energy and even financial crises around the world. The state must play the role of regulator and director for sustainable economic development when market forces have enticed companies to protect their earnings and profit lines without thinking about the workers. Men and women workers must actively participate in the designing of public policy to guarantee lesser impacts on the environment, and must ensure that we leave wealth for future generations."

The conference created a declaration, Fighting Together -- Fighting for a Sustainable Future, aimed at G8/G20 leaders. Key recommendations in the declaration include strengthening financial, environmental and labour regulations, and ensuring that these are included in any trade agreements, along with effective enforcement mechanisms. The Declaration also called upon world leaders to implement the so-called Robin Hood tax on global financial transactions, create secure green jobs, reach a binding agreement on greenhouse gases, and to fully involve unions and civil society organizations in any bilateral or multilateral trade agreements.

The situation for workers has reached crisis levels worldwide, said delegates and attendees at the conference. According to Judith Kirton-Darling, Policy Advisor for the European Metalworkers' Federation, Europe has lost 10 per cent of their manufacturing workforce, and youth unemployment has reached epidemic proportions.

"Immediately when the crisis hit, we lost all fixed-term and temporary agency workers -- they were the first victims," explained Kirton-Darling. "And that has created a crisis of an aging workforce. Within a very short period, we saw the average age in our industries leap 10-15 years with the loss of younger workers who were largely in precarious employment. What we're facing in Europe is the danger of a lost generation. We have about 20 per cent youth unemployment across Europe, and in some countries, it's staggeringly higher and a major concern."

Ken Lewenza, President of the Canadian Auto Workers, shares Kirton-Darling's concerns. "I want to in particularly support what [Kirton-Darling] is talking about, which isn't being raised enough, and that's the young workers who are losing their jobs," he said. "And the young workers who are losing the opportunity of having gainful employment in a unionized workplace. It's a real challenge for those of us in Canada to try to deal with that consequence of this global meltdown."

Also attending the conference was federal NDP candidate and CAW Senior Negotiator Peggy Nash. She wants governments to begin once again to exert public control over the private sector. "It is that public good and regulation of public good that has been in decline for the past three decades, and that needs to be reversed," she told "Unless you have elected officials acting in the public good, then you get to have corporations acting in their self-interest, greed, and sometimes fraudulent self-interest."

Nash brought up the fact that there have been 1,500 foreign takeovers in Canada, an issue that hits close to home for Gerard, whose career started at 18 years of age at Inco in Sudbury, now owned by Brazilian corporation Vale.

"They came to my hometown, came to this country and were allowed to acquire one of the richest resources in the world, the nickel basin," said Gerard. "And from the day they got there, they've been attacking workers rights, collective agreements, pensions, and workers' rights to a decent job." Workers at Vale in Sudbury have been on strike for almost a year, and a number of them were in attendance at the conference.

According to Nash, the Canadian government is moving in the wrong direction, citing the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement passed this week in the House of Commons despite the major human rights violations of workers in Colombia. "Even the United States is now stalling and probably will not agree to free trade with Colombia," she said.

The major challenge will be getting G8/G20 leaders to pay attention to the recommendations put forth at the conference this weekend and making them act upon them. Delegates and attendees agreed that the only way to make them listen is through mass mobilizations and electing progressive political leaders to replace current leaders.

"I think it will take world mobilization of workers and civil society to get them to change their minds," said Dave Coles, President of the CEP. "They're incapable of listening to workers' concerns, otherwise we'd not be in this dilemma we're in now. We're going to have to throw a number of their sorry asses out of office to catch their attention."

Kirton-Darling used the general strikes in Greece, as well as a Europe-wide mass mobilization planned for September 29th, as examples of the kind of organizing that needs to occur. She also stressed the importance of engaging young people by organizing precarious workers and representing their concerns.

Despite the presence of key Canadian and international labour leaders, the press conference held by organizers was sparsely attended; only, RadioLabour, and CBC showed up.

This was not a surprise to Coles. "We cannot depend on mainstream media," he told "They're not here, nor will they ever be here. And it's not the workers' fault. It's the corporate media, and corporate media will tell them not to hear our voices."

Coles is not discouraged, though. "We've learned to use YouTube, independent media to get around their blockade, and I think [G8/G20 leaders] are going to get a surprise about the amount of noise created by working class people in opposition to their economic agenda. Web pages, Twitter, Facebook will all be used by civil society groups and the labour movement leading up to [the G8/G20 summit]. I have a lot of confidence that you'll see the debate being forced on the politicians to deal with the issues."

Michelle Langlois is a staff member at

ICEM Executive Demands ILO Action on Mine Safety, Justice in Canada and Mexico

ICEM News release

26 May 2010

The Executive Committee of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) Federation, meeting today 26 May in Geneva, passed three key resolutions. Firstly, the Executive drew sharp attention on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and its role to improve safety conditions in the world's mines.

The ICEM also passed resolutions reiterating its strong support to the United Steelworkers in Canada in its 11-month strike against Brazilian-based Vale, and support to the National Miners' and Metalworkers' Union of Mexico (SNTMMSRM), also known as Los Mineros, in its lengthy struggle against Grupo Mexico and the government of Mexico.

The adopted statement on mine safety called on the ILO to do more to press member states to ratify Convention 176, the Safety and Health in Mines Convention. Recent mining tragedies in Turkey and Russia served as a backdrop for the Executive issuing strong rhetoric for immediate action by the ILO.

"Our statutory body strongly feels that the ILO must become more pro-active in investigating causes of safety negligence, and insist on a greater trade union role in promoting safe work conditions," said ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda.

In Turkey, the ICEM endorsed today's three one-hour work stoppages by 10,000 miners, strikes that were led by ICEM affiliate Genel Maden-Is. The strikes across the coal-mining region of Zonguldak follow the deadly 17 May methane explosion in the Karadon mine, which killed 30 non-union and short-term contract workers. The strikes were meant as a message to the Turkish government, demanding safe work conditions inside mines, as well as ratification of Convention 176.

The ICEM Executive also condemned faulty pay schemes in mining in several countries, including Russia where monthly salaries are kept extremely low, with miners expected to achieve high production quotas to supplement their pay. This likely was the case at the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region, where 90 workers died due to methane gas explosions in early May.

The safety statement also addressed a rash of accidents in both the upstream and downstream oil and gas industries, including a refinery explosion in the US state of Washington that killed seven and the Gulf of Mexico disaster. "While much is made of the environmental destruction along the United States Gulf coast brought about by the oil rig explosion, which indeed merits attention, little is made of the fact that 11 offshore workers died and 15 others were seriously injured," read the statement. See full resolution here.

The resolution regarding the USW strike at three locations of Vale in Canada called attention to the company's ongoing aversion to negotiate in good faith with the union. The global campaign for justice at Vale, by the ICEM, the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), and affiliates from around the world has improved conditions for workers, said the resolution. See full document here.

The third resolution, on Los Mineros' struggle against Grupo Mexico and the government of Felipe Calderon, condemns the recent brutal and unprovoked attacks by the Mexican Federal Police on members of the union. The attack is seen as a direct attack on the autonomy of Los Mineros. Police fired on, detained, and physically attacked the workers in the city of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. Among those attacked was Mario García Ortíz, Los Mineros' special delegate for the State of Michoacán, also the Alternative General Secretary of the union and President of the recent Convention of the union.

The ICEM statement calls on the Mexican government to acknowledge the result of the democratic election of the Los Mineros Congress, in which Napoleon Gomez Urrutia was elected. See the full document here.

The ICEM is a Global Union Federation consisting of 467 trade unions in 132 countries, representing in total 20 million workers.

For further information, contact ICEM Information Officer, Dick Blin +41 79 734 8994 (mobile), or Tom Grinter, ICEM Communications and Campaigns, +41 79 693 4499 (mobile).

Australian mining union backs regulation of overseas mines

Radio Australia, Pacific Beat

28 June 2010

The Australian union covering the mining industry says the country's mining companies operating in the Pacific ought to obey Australian regulations on safety and conditions.

This follows comments from Shaista Shameem, the lawyer for Fiji mineworkers involved in the long-running strike at the Vatukoula mine, slamming the Australian company, Emperor Gold for employing local miners in what she described as virtual slave labour conditions.

She says the Australian government shouldn't allow its mining companies to operate in the Pacific without regard to Australian standards of mine safety and labour regulations. But Peter Colley, national research director of Australia's Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, says at the moment it's up to the countries where the mines are located to legislate and enforce their own regulations.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Peter Colley, national research director of Australia's Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union

COLLEY: The conditions at the Vatukoula gold mine are certainly worse than the equivalent of Australian mines, that is beyond question and particularly back at that time, particularly housing conditions, they were abysmal. As a matter of law, the Australian Government does not regulate the activities of Australian mining companies overseas, that's the job of overseas countries to regulate conditions in their mines. There has been a push at various times to get Australian Government to exercise jurisdiction over the activities of Australian commitments overseas, but it has not happened. With respect to Australian gold mining operations in Australia, these certainly, they are safer than those in Fiji and in many other developing countries. That said Australian gold mines have a very high rate of turnover, very long working hours and not a great safety record.

HILL: This assumption that conditions must obviously be much fairer in Australia. How true is that?

COLLEY: Well, it is true and certainly the money is a great deal better in Australia. But there is no grounds for Australian unions or Australian companies to be particularly proud or complacent about the occupational health and safety records of Australian mining.

HILL: Shaista Shameem suggested that the behaviour of Australian mining companies overseas in the Pacific, in Fiji, in her case, and obviously in PNG and Bougainville and places like that. It is perhaps something that the Australian Government ought to look at, perhaps it ought to regulate the behaviour of Australian companies overseas?

COLLEY: Well, I think it's particularly a problem with smaller companies that fly under the radar and Emperor Gold was certainly one of those. That is a relatively smaller listed company. For your bigger companies, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto have more of a reputation to worry about. Emperor Gold was always more of a fly by night operation. Those sort of operations always like to have lower standards. I certainly think there is a case for Australian Government holding Australian companies to account for their operations overseas, but the law as it stands does not allow that.

HILL: There are going to be a lot more resource extraction operations in the Pacific in the future. There's coal, oil, gas and copper in PNG, gold in Fiji, there's undersea mining about to happen, manganese nodules on the seabed all through the Pacific. So this kind of issue is going to come up more and more often in the Pacific. Is this something that the Australian Government should do something about or is this something perhaps smaller Pacific Island countries should look at getting tougher legal frameworks in place for mining operations?

COLLEY: The issue with Pacific Island nations is always a combination of having the laws in place and then enforcement of the laws. In some cases, the actual laws are not adding but there is real problem of enforcement of good governance and that's certainly the case in Fiji for a very long time and places like the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, so you have a governance problem.

HILL: It's easy to simply pay off the mine inspector to look the other way?

COLLEY: That may happen. I am not alleging that is happening, but often the problem is that the regulatory bodies are woefully under resourced, undertrained, don't have the expertise. There is simply no enforcement.

HILL: Is there anything that Australian unions can do to help their counterparts in the Pacific or are there counterparts in the Pacific? Is the trade union as strong in small Pacific Island countries as it is in Australia?

COLLEY: Well, I would not actually say the Australian Union Movement is particularly strong. They have had some of the draconian anti-union laws in the world off operating for the last one-and-a-half decades. They have slightly better laws now. They still don't apply with ILO minimum standards and employers have had free range to de-unionise their workplaces in Australia for the last one-and-a-half decades. We've got a big job here in Australia to maintain and increase our union density and we are doing that slowly under the slightly improved laws we've got. With respect to the Pacific Islands, you're talking a much smaller population. They do have unions and Australian unions have a working relationship with them. We will help them where we can. But we've got a bigger job of rebuilding unions in Australia as there is a problem in the Pacific.

HILL: So this idea that Australian unions are some sort of unstoppable political juggernaut are not necessarily true?

COLLEY: That is not my view of the world. It might be the view of Murdoch papers but it certainly is not the view of Australian unions.

Breaches of Freedom of Association Rife at AngloGold, Barrick Gold Mines in Tanzania

ICEM Statement

22 March 2010

ICEM workshops in Tanzania on 12-13 March reveal blatant abuses of freedom of association by subsidiary mining enterprises of AngloGold Ashanti and Barrick Gold. The workshops were done specifically for ICEM affiliate Tanzania Association of Mining and Construction Workers' Union (TAMICO), under the auspices of ICEM's Sub-Saharan African Regional Organisation (SSARO), with ICEM President Senzeni Zokwana and ICEM/SSARO staff person Fabian Nkomo leading the important sessions.

In attendance were the secretaries of TAMICO's four regions, plus district secretaries and key Tanzanian union activists. This ICEM project, called the Organizational Growth Project, is sponsored jointly by FNV Mondiaal of the Netherlands and LO-TCO of Sweden.

The focus of the two-day meeting was on AngloGold's 100%-owned Geita Holdings Ltd. and African Barrick Gold Plc., 75% owned by Barrick Gold of Canada and an asset that this week will see an initial public offering of the remaining 25% on the London Stock Exchange.. Both companies, separately, have engaged in labour relations conduct that is counter-productive to adherence of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, the basic workers' rights of freedom of association and right to organise and bargaining collectively.

At Geita Gold, management illegally screens all TAMICO membership forms, and has refused union recognition to those workers that it does not want in the union. Despite the union recruiting 900 mill and mine workers into TAMICO, Geita management in the Mwanza Region of Tanzania only recognizes 400 workers as members of the union. The ICEM has long known that Geita human resources director Philemon Tano openly discriminates against union membership, and this issue has been brought before AngloGold, a company that is obligated to respect labour and other standards with the ICEM through a Global Framework Agreement.

From the outcome of these workshops, SSARO will again lodge a compliant with AngloGold Ashanti in Johannesburg, South Africa, on this inappropriate conduct.

At Barrick's, Tanzania's largest gold producer with mines at Bulyanhulu, Buzwagi, North Mara, and Tulawaku, management has continued to issue dismissals as a method to discourage membership in the union. In 2007 at the Bulyanhulu mine, following a break-down in negotiations between TAMICO and management over salaries, working conditions, and medical care that caused a strike by some 1,000 miners, Barrick's summarily fired all strikers. Reports at the workshop stated that TAMICO members are sacked almost on a daily basis by African Barrick Gold Plc.

(On 16 March, three miners were killed at the underground Bulyanhula mine when a cave-in brought giant rock down on the miners. The ICEM extends deep sympathies to the families of the miners - Dickson Kadelema, Vedasstus Wilfred Tandise, and Joel Nicholas - and calls on Barrick's to ensure proper safeguards are in place inside its mines in Tanzania and elsewhere.)

The 12-13 March ICEM workshops in Dar es Salaam did produce an aggressive action plan. Participants vowed to strengthen organizationally TAMICO, particularly the union's regional structures and the development of mandates from the union's leadership. This plan was put forth to better monitor and record AngloGold and Barrick's employment and trade union abuses. TAMICO's four regional secretaries attending the workshops pledged to recruit a total of 12,000 new members in 2010.

Participants also launched a campaign specifically at AngloGold's Geita subsidiary to win full union recognition by the end of June 2010. South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which already works closely with TAMICO, will ramp up efforts through SSARO to strengthen the Tanzanian union's structures in order to meet the workshop's goals.

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