IndustriALL Headlines #27

IndustriALL Global Union

IndustriALL Headlines #27 – January 24, 2013

Intimidation of Leaders During Collective Bargaining at Carbones del Cerrejón

January 22, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union has written to the Colombian president to protest at the threats made against the leaders of Sintracarbón trade union, who are negotiating with the company over working conditions.

Negotiations between Sintracarbón and Carbones del Cerrejón have been accompanied by threats against union leaders and their families. The interim deadline for completing negotiations was Saturday 19 January and there is still no green light for negotiations to continue.  

On 6, 7 and 8 January, unidentified individuals phoned the home of Aldo Raúl Amaya, union treasurer, and warned him to be careful. Members of his family have also been threatened in this way. In addition, he has seen armed individuals in the proximity of his home.  

On 10 January, the wife of Igor Kareld, who is national president of Sintracarbon and a member of the World Executive Committee, received a call on his mobile phone. The person calling addressed Igor by his name and said he knew the daily routines of his daughters. Igor had already received a direct threat at a working session of the negotiating committee on 18 July 2012, when he was curtly told to leave the country along with his family by a certain date.  

All these threats have taken place at the same as negotiations have proceeded between Sintracarbón and the mining company. The interim deadline for completing negotiations was 19 January. This is followed by 20 days for voting. The workers will go on strike if no agreement has been reached within this period.  

Sintracarbón said it cannot sign an agreement based on the conditions that the company is imposing. The company is owned by the transnational companies Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Xstrata-Glencore and is refusing to offer fair terms to the very people who guarantee the mine’s profitability by working daily shifts of 12 hours in a difficult environment.  

The company has made three proposals, none of which have acceded to union demands for a 3% pay rise. Acceptance of the company proposals would mean giving up the just demands presented on 29 December 2012, which were mainly focused on improving conditions for outsourced workers and the community.  

IndustriaALL has written to the Colombian president, José Manuel Santos, expressing its concern about the repeated acts of violence against members of Sintracarbón. The letter calls on the competent authorities to identify those responsible and guarantee the right to life and the freedom of association of workers at Carbones del Cerrejón. It also asks Carbones del Cerrejón Limited to provide the necessary guarantees to the affected workers and explicitly declare its support for free collective bargaining in peaceful and free conditions.

IndustriALL Condemns Conviction of Somyot in Thailand

January 24, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union condemns the conviction of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk over ‘lese majeste’ offences under article 112 of the Criminal Code, with the 11 year jail sentence by a Thai Criminal Court on 23 January 2013.

In a scathing attack on human rights and freedom of speech, a Thai criminal court found Somyot Prueksakasemsuk a trade unionists, social activist and a journalist in Thailand, guilty of ‘lese majeste’ offences for publishing two articles critical of the monarchy, in his Voice of Takshin, the magazine he edited. He was sentenced to an 11 year jail term including five-year jail terms for each article and cancellation of suspension of 1 year jail sentence issued 3 years before.  

Somyot was arrested in April 2011 and has undergone prolonged pre-trial detention as his bail plea was denied by the courts 12 times. He was presented in court on several occasions wearing shackles as if he were a dreaded criminal. Trade unionists, human rights and civil society activists across the world including European Union, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International condemned the conviction and severe punishment of Somyot.  

It is important to note that he was arrested 1 year after the publication of those 2 articles. More significantly after 5 days of launching a petition seeking review of Article 112, he was arrested under the same law. Article 112 of the Criminal Code, states that, “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of 3 to 15 years.”  

Human rights defenders in Thailand believe that the government has been using the ‘lese majeste’ law under article 112 to silence its critics and called for immediate suspension and revision of ‘lese majeste law’.  

“IndustriALL joins the EU and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International in protesting for Somyot’s release, based upon the United Nations Human Rights Charter on Freedom of Expression,” said Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL.

Five Years of Struggle – Mexican Glass Workers Mobilize

January 24, 2013:  On 26 January the glass workers union of San Luís Potosí (SUTEIVP) will conduct a manifestation at the plant gates of the Corona beer bottling plant that sacked them for trade union activities five years ago.

The five year anniversary of the IndustriALL Global Union-affiliated SUTEIVP’s struggle for reinstatement and trade union recognition will be supported by other local trade unions in the San Luís Potosí area, and will receive a message of support from IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina.  

“The story of your brave struggle is well known internationally. We are proud to share our
global IndustriALL family with you, and to know that you are still fighting on the fifth
anniversary of your illegal sacking by the company.”  

Since their dismissal and refusal of a management payoff 33 workers continue struggling for their jobs back. They have been blacklisted by the company and complicit labour authorities, so that neither they nor their families can find work in the region. The anti-union complicity of the authorities has also helped to drag out the legal process with countless appeals, however the process is now in the resolution phase so there is reason to hope for a fair conclusion soon.  

The company Industria Vidriera del Potosí is a subsidiary of the global beer company Grupo Modelo. It is one of the four bottle manufacturers who produce for the famous Mexican beer Corona, and is owned by Mexico’s richest woman, María Asunción Aramburuzavala. Grupo Modelo is in the process of being bought by global market leader AB InBev, producer of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Becks beers.  

The glass workers’ demands will be an important part of the upcoming Global Days of Action on 18-24 February, which this week received unanimous support from the Council of Global Unions (CGU). The CGU members meeting on 21-22 January all committed to campaign jointly during the Days of Action.  

The Global Trade Union Federations and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) will mobilize affiliates around the world to call on the president for intervention against protection contracts, for justice at Pasta de Conchos and for reversal of the recent regressive labour reforms.  

Each democratic union in Mexico will use the week to push their specific demands for justice in their own conflicts, as well as march united for core labour rights throughout the country. The Mexican miners’ union Los Mineros will push the common demands but prioritize the call for reinstatement of ten hunger strikers at the Finnish-based autoparts multinational PKC in Ciudad Acuña. The hunger strikers were members of the local Los Mineros executive committee who were all dismissed as the company sacked 122 workers connected to the union who are battling to organize the plant and replace the corporate yellow union there.

Global Unions Condemn New Fiji Military Decree

January 24, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union joins with the ITUC and the Global Union Federations in condemning the Fiji Political Parties Decree aimed at eliminating existing opposition political parties and to prevent new ones from being registered.

The decree (Decree 4 of 2013), issued on January 15, 2013 right after the military regime had discarded a new draft constitution which was the product of a popular, consultative process, is the most recent affront to democratic principles and trade union rights.  

Most troubling, Article 14 of the decree excludes all public officers from applying for, being a member of, or holding office in a political party. Article 14.2(d) defines “public officer” to include any elected or appointed trade union officer.  

It is no coincidence that the decree was issued just days after the Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) held a special delegates meeting to launch a new opposition political party, which would include trade unions. Incredibly, under Article 14.1(c), a trade union official cannot even express support for a political party.  

If a trade union leader does become an applicant for or member or officer of a party, they will be deemed as having resigned from their trade union office. Anyone defying this decree faces a $50,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment or both.  

“The regime is once again attempting to silence the largest civil society organization and opposition force in the country – the trade union movement. The international community needs to recognize that the promise of elections in 2014 will be meaningless if all Fijian citizens cannot fully participate in the political process. This decree should remove any doubt that the regime is seeking to have itself elected in 2014 by any and all means necessary,” explained Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).  

The decree also appears to seek to eliminate many existing parties.  Parties will have less than one month from the issuance of the decree to demonstrate a minimum membership of 5,000 members (up from 128), which must come from all four divisions of the country, and to pay a $5,005 fee.   The decree even regulates the length of the name and prohibits any party name in the indigenous language of the country. Those parties that do not comply within this timeframe will have all of their assets seized by the regime. If they continue to acts as a political party despite failing to meet the new criteria, party officials will face a $50,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment or both.  

“The decree clearly violates principles of freedom of association by prohibiting unions from engaging in political activities for the promotion of their trade union objectives.  All individuals and groups that wish to form a political party should be able to do so, based on the principle of equal treatment before the law. This decree obviously fails this test,” stated Ambet Yuson, Chair of the Council of Global Unions, which brings together the Global Union Federations, ITUC and TUAC.

Historic Win for Rio Tinto Workers

January 23,2013:  Rio Tinto has agreed to resume negotiations with IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Australian Workers Union (AWU), after Fair Work Australia agreed that the majority of the workers at Bell Bay wanted to collectively bargain for pay and conditions.

Over the past 19 years Rio Tinto has negotiated directly with the workers at Tasmania’s Bell Bay aluminium smelter, with no union involvement. After a 3-year AWU organizing battle, this victory is significant for unions in Australia, as it disproves the myth that once a company de-unionizes, the union can never get back in.

“We have made it very clear that Rio Tinto is a company that we are targeting,” said Paul Howes, AWU National Secretary,  “we believe that there is a move to change amongst their workforce. Now many in the business community and in Rio [Tinto] themselves laughed at us two years ago when I announced this at my national conference, I even had some labour ministers say that our tactics wouldn’t be successful.”  

Discussions around a new collective agreement for workers at Bell Bay should commence within weeks. Although it’s unlikely that workers will push for wage parity with the mainland, given the smelter’s tough trading conditions, Paul Howes says that, “there is no reason why in the long-term these workers shouldn’t be paid the same as their mainland counterparts, after all Bell Bay is a unique smelter in Australia by the fact that it’s running on essentially clean power through the form of hydro electricity.”  

In the coming weeks the AWU will be consulting with members to draw up a log of claims to present to the company. One of the most important priorities will be to lock in workers’ existing pay and conditions in the event that Rio Tinto sells Pacific Aluminium to another company.  

We knew that this campaign would be successful principally because workers in Rio want to be
able to have a say in their working conditions and want to be treated fairly. And that’s why
we’ve seen this ground swell of support, 
said Howes.  

Rio Tinto lost US$14 billion (€10.525 billion) as a consequence of asset depreciation in Mozambique and trading in aluminium, the company dismissed its chief executive officer (CEO) Tom Albanese as a result on 17 January 2013. Iron Ore CEO Sam Walsh took his place. Doug Ritchie, who had led the acquisition of Rio Tinto’s Mozambique coal assets, was also dismissed.