Multinationals are often accused of having a tin ear for the plight of workers, an attitude very much in evidence this week than in the way BHP Billiton is slashing jobs at its Cerro Matoso nickel mine in Colombia.
The union representing workers at the mine, Sintracerromatoso, says the company is protecting the interests of shareholders at the expense of workers, their families and communities. Union leaders accuse local management of hiding behind jargon like ‘restructuring’ , ‘disinvestment’ and ‘cost cutting’ while ignoring the trauma faced workers who are threatened with losing their livelihoods. The company is offering barely 30% of the compensation provided for in the collective agreement.
Sintracerromatoso, which is a member of IndustriAll Global Union affiliate Utrammicol, is linked to efforts to build a strong and united mining and energy union in Colombia, CUSME.
Nobody is asking BHP Billiton to reinvent the wheel. The company could start by boning up on ILO Convention No. 158 and Recommendation No. 166 concerning termination of employment as well as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, not to mention the slew of best practices that exist. All of these instruments provide valuable guidance for dealing with restructuring and potential redundancies.
Nor is it rocket science to implement the basic principles that emerge:
In considering changes in your company’s operations, provide reasonable notice and engage in meaningful consultations with unions and government as early as possible. Justify why you are proposing such measures. Be collaborative in finding solutions and bear in mind that workers and their unions can often provide important insights and propose alternatives to avoid job losses. If redundancies are inevitable, negotiate with workers and unions in order to minimise the impact on the workforce as much as possible.
Failing to abide by these standards is not only callous and irresponsible, it is also a violation of the tenets of good management.
IndustriAll has offered its support.