IndustriALL Global Union and several mining affiliates are calling on the management of La Escondida copper mine in Chile and BHP Billiton, the majority owner, to resume collective agreement negotiations.
Workers Uniting (formed by the United Steelworkers (USW) of the U.S.A. and Canada and Unite the Union of the U.K. and Ireland), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa (NUM), CFMEU Mining & Energy of Australia, together with IndustriALL Global Union, urged La Escondida management return to the negotiation table with the" Sindicato Nº1 de Minera Escondida" union.
"Mineworkers around the world are united in solidarity with the La Escondida workers and support for their just demands," said Piet Matosa, President of the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa.
2,500 workers at La Escondida went on strike on 9 February after the company suspended negotiations with the union. Management boycotted a government-sponsored mediation session with the striking workers on 15 February.
"It is unacceptable that a global company like BHP Billiton is refusing to sit down and negotiate in good faith with their workers," stated Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary of UNITE.
Despite a 30 per cent productivity increase over the past two years, the company is trying to slash wages 14 per cent, increase working hours to more than 12 hours per day, and impose a two-tier benefit system for current and future workers. La Escondida has illegally withheld last year's bonuses in order to pressure the striking workers.
Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, said: "BHP Billiton's shameless exploitation of its Chilean workforce gives the company a bad name and threatens its long-term value for short-term profit."
During a demonstration held on 1 March, special police forces shot tear gas grenades into the crowd, injuring three workers. It appears that in the absence of proper industrial relations procedures aimed at promoting good faith collective bargaining, the state is now resorting to police violence to resolve labour conflicts.
“Given the severity of the situation, we demand that BHP Billiton intervene immediately to re-start negotiations with the Sindicato Nº1 to achieve a fair collective agreement for all the workers at La Escondida," said Andrew Vickers, General Secretary of CFMEU Mining & Energy and co-chair of IndustriALL's mining section.