Mock coffins and helmets during a demonstration in Istanbul, May 2014, blaming the government for the Soma disaster. Photo credit REUTERS
Canada – USW successfully reduced layoffs at Rio Tinto. Ron Thomas, USW president at IOC Labrador, at Rio Tinto AGM, London, 2015.
IndustriALL Global Union is shocked and alarmed at the massive jobs bloodbath unfolding in the mining and metals sector, ostensibly as a result of the plunge in commodity prices. The global scale of the massive lay-offs and job cuts is unprecedented.
The mining and metals global sector came out of the financial crisIs of 2008 to 2012 unscathed. In the midst of the global recession in 2008, induced by the global financial crisis, the mining industry experienced a commodities boom. The boom was largely fuelled by the growth of China and India and created an unprecedented demand for coal, mineral resources and precious stones. Against the background of the financial crises, mining companies outperformed the overall market. Most mining companies came through the crises with robust balance sheets.
Paradoxically, mine workers did not benefit from the boom. Any benefits in mineworkers’ conditions of employment, in mainly wages and salaries, were the results of blood, sweat, tears, toiling through tough and often brutal collective bargaining.
Even with healthy balance sheets the captains of the industry remained oblivious to the needs of its workforce. Instead, they went on a crazy spending spree, rewarding themselves with hefty pay increases and bonuses, made irresponsible investment on risky project pipelines, and flooded the market with unmitigated production targets. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
Boom times could not last forever and the party ended when China and India’s economies began to slow down and even began to contract. Not surprisingly, workers are expected to brace themselves for hard times and take the brunt for the collapsing commodity prices, even though they have had no hand in the unfolding tragedy of job losses and massive lay-offs as these companies embark on massive cost containment measures.
From being touted as the most important asset for mining companies, they are now considered as liabilities and are thrown out to join the mass of the unemployed and thus externalizing the social cost to society and the state. It is wicked that at the same time as mineworkers are bearing the brunt of the collapsing commodity prices, the mining companies are paying dividends to their shareholders.
IndustriALL Global Union is calling on the mining industry to act responsibly in these difficult times for mine workers and their families. Our affiliates are reporting disturbing trends that mining companies, in their haste to reduce costs, undermine trade unions by approaching and coercing individual workers to accept voluntary retrenchments.
Some of these mining companies further violate national laws that require consultations with trade unions. In this instance, precarious work and the precariousness of work is increasing.
The Chairperson of the mining sector of IndustriALL Global Union and General Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Andrew Vickers commenting on the unfolding tragedy, says:
IndustriALL Global Union is putting these mining companies on notice that they should immediately desist from these nefarious behavior and actions. They must enter into dialogue with the affected national unions to find mutually acceptable solutions to the crisis.
Retrenchment should be a measure of last resort and if retrenchments and lay-offs are unavoidable, then due process that respect the country laws and regulations must be respected.