A machine which breaks down iron ore at the SNIM TO-14 iron ore mine in Zouerate. Source: Reuters/Joe Penney

Massive miners’ strike galvanizes Mauritania

02.04.2015

A two month-long miners’ strike in Mauritania’s iron ore industry is affecting the whole country say unions. Mauritania is Africa’s second largest exporter of iron ore and the mineral is vital to its struggling economy. 

More than 3,000 union members, including miners in Zouerate in the north of the country and workers processing iron ore in Nouadhibou, downed tools on 28 January after the National Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM) refused to honour an agreed wage increase at the Zouerate mine.   

The workers, from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Fédération Nationale de l’Energie Hydrocarbure et Mines et Industrie (FNEHMI), are entering the tenth week of strike action as SNIM fails to implement pay rises, overtime and production bonus payments sealed in a collective bargaining agreement made between SNIM and the FNEHMI in October 2014.

More than 90 per cent of FNEHMI’s members are behind the strike, which also has support from civil society organizations and the political opposition.

“This strike is making the whole country uneasy. There urgently needs to be constructive dialogue,” said one opposition leader. 

Since the dispute, more than 400 strikers have been sacked.

Union leader, Abdel M’haimid, said:

“Not only does SNIM refuse all contact with worker representatives, but it is aggravating an already explosive situation by pretending that the collective agreement is obsolete, null and void.”

M’haimid says the strike is having a disastrous financial impact on the state-owned company.

“It is also regrettable that SNIM is replacing dismissed staff with outsourced contractors who are inexperienced in operating machinery, which in a year will be ruined by lack of attention and wrongful use,” he added.

The company blames the drop in iron ore prices for not implementing the pay rises. However, union leaders dispute this and say huge investment in other projects has put a financial strain on the company.

Union leaders are demanding that the SNIM makes the promised payments; reinstates the sacked workers; and comes back to the negotiating table.

In a letter to the CEO of SNIM, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Jyrki Raina, said that SNIM’s failure to heed the collective bargaining agreement “reflects badly on the integrity of your company and can only be construed as a mischievous attempt at union-busting and an unwarranted attack on collective bargaining.

“I urge the National Industrial and Mining Company to immediately honour the collective bargaining agreement,” said Raina.