MAC: Mines and Communities

Deliberately eliminating the unions

Published by MAC on 2001-04-23

Deliberately eliminating the unions

Rio Tinto is the biggest private mining company in the world. It directly employs some 51,000 people, but the incomes of many more people depend, one way or another, on the activities of the group. The enterprise runs more than 60 mines and factories in over 40 countries. >From Australia to Brazil, via Norway, the Philippines and the Czech Republic, Rio Tinto has built up an appalling record of human and trade union rights violations, community destruction, environmental damage and disregard for the lives of indigenous people.

On the industrial relations front, Rio Tinto is deliberately seeking to eliminate trade union organisations in many of its establishments. For example, it hands out bonuses to workers in an Australian coal mine for producing coal "free" of the involvement of trade unions. Again in Australia, the enterprise which seeks by every means to impose individual employment contracts to circumvent collective agreements and neutralise the trade unions has gone so far as making staff available to the authorities to draft labour legislation, an initiative deemed by the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Committee of Experts to be a violation of the right to organise and bargaining collectively, as foreseen in international labour legislation.

Rio Tinto is also being taken to court in the United Kingdom by workers accusing it of being responsible for the cancers they contracted while working in mines in Namibia.

The ICEM notes in passing that members of the Rio Tinto board of directors, some of the highest paid executives in the world, have promised to award themselves a 33 per cent bonus if the enterprise manages to get onto the "international industrial league table", a list of 15 mining enterprises drawn up by Rio Tinto management itself. This bonus could rise to 100 per cent if the company reaches the top four in the league table. "Let's just say that the workers who are responsible for Rio Tinto's wealth would be very happy to get the same bonus" comments the ICEM wryly.

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