MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Trade unionists impacted by the policies and practices of Rio Tinto have confirmed the need for the

Published by MAC on 2003-09-26


Trade unionists impacted by the policies and practices of Rio Tinto have confirmed the need for the global campaigning network set up originally in 1997. At a conference held in September 2003 they also unanimously supported the ongoing struggles of communities directly impacted by the world's second biggest mining company.

The conference theme was "the fallacy of Rio Tinto's elaborate efforts to portray itself as socially responsible". Fortuitously Rio Tinto chair, Sir Robert Wilson, addressed the same topic at the same time in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). But the chasm between corporate claims and workers' direct experience could hardly be greater...

Global Union Group Commits to Bring Rogue Company Rio Tinto to Justice, Reaffirms Solidarity

Press statement by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA)

Friday, September 26, 2003

Utah - Following a two day conference, nearly 100 trade union delegates representing tens of thousands of Rio Tinto plc/Ltd (NYSE: RTP), (RIO.L), (RIO.AX) workers in eight nations pledged their mutual solidarity and resolved to further strengthen their global network in order to bring Rio Tinto to justice.

The delegates, in a Solidarity Statement issued following the conference, committed to work in unity to negotiate an enforceable global agreement with Rio Tinto which requires that the company respect fundamental labor rights, other human rights and the environment.

They also expressed their outrage at Rio Tinto's "illegal and immoral" treatment of workers in Zimbabwe and demanded this behavior be immediately reversed. Finally, they committed to bolstering communications throughout the network and to continue jointly campaigning for fair treatment of workers by Rio Tinto at its facilities across the globe.

It was the fourth biennial conference of the ICEM Rio Tinto Global Union Network, a network of trade unionists representing a large fraction of UK and Australia based global mining concern Rio Tinto's workers in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. ICEM (International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions) is an international labor federation that represents 20 million union workers worldwide.

"We formed the ICEM Rio Tinto Global Union Network in 1997 after Rio Tinto began to take advantage of changes in Australian labor law and the globalization of capital in order to grossly undermine the rights of workers we represent," said John Maitland, President of ICEM and head of Australia based Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

"Through collaborating with other Network members, we soon learned that Rio Tinto was up to similar kinds of underhanded, antisocial antics around the globe. Holding these conferences and fulfilling commitments laid out in the Solidarity Statement advances the Network's struggle to end these antics and bring Rio Tinto to justice."

At the post-conference press conference, Network delegates stated that a theme of the conference was the fallacy of Rio Tinto's elaborate efforts to portray itself as socially responsible.

"Rio Tinto often throws a bone at communities living near sites where it wants to develop a mine in order to gain community consent," stated Kjell Hermansson, a representative of the Swedish Metal Workers Union. "Then the company packages this in its glossy brochures as the activities of a socially responsible corporation. However, Rio Tinto's impending shutdown of its Swedish facility where I work will devastate the surrounding small community, and the company's not throwing any bones. It seems Rio Tinto's only socially responsible when there's money to be made."

Network delegates also commented on Rio Tinto's ongoing behavior in Zimbabwe as wholly inconsistent with the company's claim that it behaves in a socially responsible manner. Stated Joseph Midzi, General Secretary of the Associated Mineworkers of Zimbabwe, "The callousness with which Rio Tinto treats workers in Zimbabwe is staggering. While Rio Tinto's workers in Zimbabwe are faced with astronomical inflation, the company seems hell-bent on not granting them living wages. They can barely afford basic commodities to feed their families!"

Added Midzi, "While much of Zimbabwe continues to be devastated by the HIV virus, Rio Tinto is reducing health care benefits and taking practically no measures to treat infected workers. We believe that the company has in fact illegally discharged workers on account of them being HIV positive."

Rio Tinto's hypersensitivity about its public image was also a theme of the conference. United Steelworkers of America (USWA) District 12 Director Terry Bonds claimed this hypersensitivity would guide Network actions.

"In order to bring Rio Tinto to justice, it's necessary to expose the ugly truth about the company," said Bonds. "That's why this Network is putting so much emphasis on bolstering our capacity to gather and share information. We will implement a system that enables us to strategically use our collective knowledge about all the inhumane, anti-worker and environmentally devastating actions this company is taking across the globe. We will become the whistleblowers of the world, and the company will be forced to deal with the consequences."

Bonds was nominated by John Maitland to replace Maitland as Chair of the ICEM Rio Tinto Global Union Network and was subsequently unanimously elected to this post.

Rosival Ferreira Araujo, President of Sindicato do Trabadores das Industrias Extrativis in Brazil, reported on what the Network has helped Brazilian Rio Tinto workers achieve. "We struggled long and hard for a national collective agreement with Rio Tinto. We needed one to counter the company's attempts to play its Brazilian workers off against each other in a race to the bottom. Until we became actively involved with the Network, Rio Tinto ignored our efforts."

"Following participation of Network members in our struggle, we achieved a national collective agreement at the beginning of 2002, which was then strengthened in 2003. It just goes to show what workers around the world can achieve through collaboration, even in the face of a vicious multinational corporation like Rio Tinto."

USWA and ICEM jointly hosted the conference in Salt Lake City, near Rio Tinto subsidiary Kennecott Utah Copper's operations. Kennecott workers, over a thousand of whom are represented by USWA and four other unions, have been in a bitter labor dispute with the company for nearly a year. Although the dispute seemed over in June when workers ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, it resumed two days later when Kennecott laid 122 of them off.

Throughout the dispute, USWA has participated in joint activities with Network members. USWA credits the Network with helping it to achieve the agreement at Kennecott.

According to USWA President Leo Gerard, "Until the dispute at Kennecott is resolved and after it is resolved, the Steelworkers will remain highly active in the ICEM Rio Tinto Global Union Network. We will redouble our efforts to build the Network and will do whatever we can to help our sisters and brothers employed by Rio Tinto around the world achieve justice and beat back the company's attempts to devastate their lives, families, communities and the environment."

Contact: Tom Johnson (773) 580-8388 Adam Lee (412) 562-2482

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