Rio Tinto is notorious for its union bashing tactics and abuse of precarious workers. As a consequence, IndustriALL Global Union launched in Cape Town, South Africa, on 6 February, its global corporate campaign against mining giant Rio Tinto. The main aim of this campaign is to force a seismic shift in the way Rio Tinto relates to workers and trade unions across their operations.
Fernando Lopes, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary said: “Most of the time, in the mining industry the majority of the workforce is in precarious employment. In response to this, IndustriALL Global Union has identified three main areas of focus to combat this practice: organise; protect through collective bargaining; improve legislation.”
A Memorandum of Demands has been addressed to the Rio Tinto Chief Executive Officer (CEO), which includes the need to minimise the incidence of precarious work.
Workers in precarious jobs have little chance to join a union or to bargain collectively. Pay and conditions are being driven ever lower by companies, thereby dividing the workforce inside the plants. Hence it is imperative for precarious workers to be represented together with their comrades. Only with a strong unionisation rate will workers become an unavoidable counterpart for Rio Tinto.
One of the reliable ways to protect precarious workers is to include them into the collective bargaining agreement. At Rio Tinto’s operation in South Africa, most workers are contract workers and non-union members. However, during the 2013 collective bargaining round, NUM’s wage demands to the company included contract workers.
Policy protection through e.g. minimum wage or limiting the use of precarious work is one other element. SYNATE in Cameroon has been strategizing on how to deal with legislation that allows for three categories of workers: permanent workers, subcontracted workers and temporary workers. This has allowed Rio Tinto Aluchem to create an intermediate company of subcontracted employees and these employees can spend all their working years until retirement in that category of employment. According to SYNATE, education and sensitisation of all workers is key in this fight.
After the global economic crisis in 2008, Rio Tinto announced the cut of 14,000 jobs around the world, of whom 8,500 were contract workers. Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL Mining director, stated: “Contract workers have been paying too long Rio Tinto’s race for profit and its liberal employment policy. It is now time for workers all around the world to come together and clearly say: Down Rio Tinto, Down!”