IndustriALL Headlines #37 – April 4, 2013

IndustriALL Headllines id produced by IndustriALL Global Union


IndustriALL Heralds New IRMA Head

April 4, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union is pleasea to welcome Matthew Wenban-Smith as new Managing Director of the initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).  The appointment marks an important milestone in establishing IRMA as the first legitimate global certification programme in the mining sector.

The success of IRMA is a key priority for IndustriALL’s mining sectoral activities, as well as for social partners and companies who have worked together for six years to establish the multi-stakeholder dialogue charged with achieving responsible mining. IRMA stands to be the first international certification procedure to include proper worker participation and therefore potentially the first to award reliable certifications on mines with high social and environmental performance.

Pre-existing certification bodies in the sector have long been criticized by trade unions for lacking credibility. When a certification body is set up and run by the companies themselves it is not surprising when irresponsible employers that abuse workers and the environment are still awarded certificates of good practice.

This corrupt practice was vividly shown to the world during the Rio Tinto scandal of 2012, whereby the company supplied the metal for the medals at the London Olympics despite Rio Tinto being renowned for its long history of contempt for labour rights, environmental destruction (including in the communities that sourced the metals that went into the medals), and general opposition to anything that could be defined as sustainable.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an organization of companies in the industry and including Rio Tinto as a founding member, awarded certification to Rio Tinto on 13 July, attesting to the company’s highest ethical, social, and environmental standards. It was the first certification given to a mining company, and was just days before the start of the London Olympics, where pressure was building against Rio Tinto’s role in providing the metals for the athletes’ medals.

The RJC clearly rushed through the process and conveniently made Rio Tinto the first mining company to receive this recognition. The RJC lost all credibility through this action.

Jon Samuel, of mining company Anglo American, on IRMA’s Steering Committee, marked the new appointment:

“Matthew has worked with other certification programs that have successfully travelled the same paths currently in front of IRMA. He is therefore extremely well placed to help IRMA develop an effective approach that meets the expectations of the key stakeholder groups participating in IRMA.”

Fellow IRMA Steering Committee member Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL’s Director for the mining industry stated,

“Organized labour leaders are working for a new economic and social model that puts people first, based on
democracy and social justice. It is exciting to bring on a new leader to IRMA who can help us realize that goal.”

Indonesian Trade Unionists Jailed Fighting Precarious Work

April 4, 2013:  IndustriALL Global Union’s Indonesian affiliate the FPE-SBSI is campaigning for the rights of outsourced contract workers at state-owned mine and energy companies PLN and Pertamina.  In retaliation to the cmpaign workers have been sacked and even jailed.

Employment status issues have arisen for 5,802 members of the Federation of Mining and Energy-Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union (FPE-SBSI) at PLN and Pertamina in five locations. The union argues that as state-owned enterprises the government should set an example to other employers by respecting the labour law at PLN and Pertamina, and employing workers on a permanent basis.  

Some of the 5,802 have been employed on rolling contracts for up to 20 years, in clear breach of the national labour legislation. Article 59 of Law 13 (2003) sets out the legal framework for contract labour employment in Indonesia. Short-term contract based employment is only legal when the work of the company has a fixed term, including seasonal work, or work related to testing a new product or activity.  

The FPE-SBSI is active in Aceh Province, Riau Province, Sulawesi Province and Maluku, attempting to end the precarious work abuses by management of PLN and Pertamina. On the national level the union is targeting the government minister for state-owned industry, but workers face intransigence at that level also.  

In Aceh Tamiang FPE-SBSI workers have been sacked by Pertamina EP Rantau, and local management has colluded with local police to arrest and detain four trade unionists named Rusli, Wahyu, Ismed Rizal and Amir. Sackings have also occurred in Sulawesi and Maluku, and are all interpreted as reprisal sackings for trade union activities.  

IndustriALL supports its affiliate’s calls on the government of Indonesia to intervene and bring solution through dialogue with the union.  

The FPE-SBSI organized an extra 5000-7000 new members in state-owned companies during the period May to December 2012.

Chilean Copper Workers’ Dispute Worsens

April 4, 2013:  The death of a CODELCO worker, Nelson Barria, on Wednesday 27 March, caused by a landslide at the Radomiro Tomic opencast mine, has aggravated the dispute between workers and the state-owned mining company.

After Nelson Barría’s death, the union convened a meeting that voted for a strike in protest at their colleague’s death. The union called for the dismissal of the Radomiro Tomic division’s general manager. The Copper Workers’ Federation (FTC), affiliated to IndustriALL, gave its total backing to the union at the Radomiro Tomic division.  

On Saturday 30 March, the company closed the plant as it remained at a standstill. However, the following day, Thomas Keller, CODELCO’s chief executive officer (CEO) accepted the resignation of Francisco Carvajal, general manager of the Radomiro Tomic division.  

The FTC said it called for Carvajal’s resignation because management did not act responsibly in the light of a series of safety warnings made prior to the accident.  

FTC president, Raimundo Espinoza, explained that, in the light of the manager’s resignation, the workers had decided to return to work on the opening shift of 1 April. He said that they are not willing to accept the arrogant and over-bearing attitude of CODELCO managers and added that “regrettably we have had four fatal accidents at CODELCO in the last four months”.   \

“We are not happy about going on strike, but these people don’t understand anything else. The managers do not listen, it’s like talking to a brick wall. Some of the managers in this company ignore the conditions in which people are working and the result is this kind of accident”, said Espinoza.

Regarding the planned national strike, Espinoza explained that “as in 2011, we will continue to prepare for a strike because the managers don’t want to listen” adding that “all divisions” are discussing a date for the strike.

Finally, he called on CODELCO managers “to learn to listen so we can avoid all these problems. The CEO said that strikes don’t solve anything, but some people only understand it if you take action and I want this to serve as an example”.  

Mauritian Trade Unions Mobilize Against Anti-Worker Legislation

April 4, 2013:  The government of Mauritius last week presented to parliament regressive amendments to the Employment Rights Act and Employment Relations Act.  The Bills have been denounced by the CMCTEU as a bolstering of the balance of power in favour of employers.

In December 2012 the ministry of labour presented to Parliament for adoption a list of proposed amendments to the Employment Rights Act and Employment Relations Act, undermining the power of trade unions. Strong mobilization of various unions on the island forced the government to postpone the adoption of the bills, and several unions jointly submitted counter-proposals.  

The trade union mobilization has continued since December, with several demonstrations conducted in the previous four weeks. The IndustriALL-affiliated CMCTEU distributed letters to MPs to raise awareness and call on them to vote responsibly.  

Some amendments proposed by the unions have been included in the new text presented on 26 March to Parliament by the government. The ministry of labour initially attempted to undermine the industrial relations systems by allowing collective agreements to be reached by individual groups of workers without union affiliation, unions succeeding in having this change removed. The new law stipulates that all employees be provided with a contract of employment.  

Despite these improvements, trade unions denounce a text that solidifies bargaining power in the hands of employers. The use of contract workers is still legally permitted for permanent jobs. The law fails to establish proper protections against unjustified dismissal. The employer sacks the worker first then justification for termination of employment is sought. The notice-period for termination of a contract is shortened from three months to 30 days. Unions cannot appeal to arbitration without the consent of employers. Solidarity strikes become illegal.  

The adoption of this new text is scheduled for Tuesday 9 April. Unions maintain pressure to prevent the adoption of amendments to the detriment of the protection of workers and unions.  

IndustriALL supports its affiliates in the campaign and denounces the amendments that target union power and undermine workers’ rights.

Thousands of Miners Rally in the U.S.

April 4, 2013:  The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) ralied against Patriot Coal on 1 April for miner pensions and benefits in Charleston, mobilizing 10,000 activists onto the street.

On 1 April thousands gathered at the Charleston Civic Centre, in West Virginia, for a massive rally organized by the UMWA as part of its “Fairness at Patriot” campaign. The campaign focuses on the health care, wages and working conditions of coal miners.

The crowd marched to the Patriot Coal local office where 16 labour leaders, clergy and UMWA members were arrested for refusing to move off the office tower’s steps during a non-violent protest. The arrested included Cecil Roberts, UMWA International President, and Dan Kane, UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer.  

In June of 2012, Patriot filed for reorganization under U.S. bankruptcy law. The company is seeking court approval to drastically reduce or eliminate health care coverage for retired miners, and to make severe cutbacks in the wages, health care, pensions and working conditions of active mine workers.  

“This is a crime,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “We’ve been robbed, tricked and lied to. This cannot stand – and with thousands of us from all over the country marching today and keeping us this fight tomorrow, it will not stand.”  

The UMWA has staged a number of protests in St. Louis, resulting in many arrests, and is running an ad campaign aimed at pressuring Patriot Coal to abandon plans for shedding liability for pensions and health care benefits. Thousands of retired miners and their families would be affected by that plan.  

Patriot Coal was created by Peabody Energy in 2007 with the specific purpose of allowing Peabody Energy and Arch Coal to shed its long-term health care obligations to its retirees and their families. Saddled with too much debt and too little production to keep pace with its debt load, Patriot is seeking to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  

Peabody Energy and Arch Coal have made hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years while Patriot has lost millions. IndustriALL supports UMWA’s calls to make Peabody and Arch accept their share of the obligations to those who literally put their lives and their health on the line every day they go to work.