29 May, 2020Several unionized BHP workers in Peru and Chile are questioning the company's response to Covid-19. They state that new infections persist in Peru and that in Chile the company recruits only workers who do not have pre-existing health conditions.
The network of BHP employees in Latin America met virtually to exchange information on how the company is responding to the coronavirus pandemic in its different plants in the region. The result was a rather mixed picture.
Workers who are members of the union at the Antamina Company in Peru (a joint venture between BHP, Glencore, Teck Resources and Mitsubishi Corporation) reported a complete absence of meaningful social dialogue. They claim that 216 workers tested positive for Covid-19 at a single mine employing 7,000 workers. Furthermore, they say the first person to die from Covid-19 in the country was an Antamina worker.
Edmundo Villanueva of the Peruvian mining federation FNTMMSP said:
“Antamina frequently ignores the recommendations that our union sends them by letter. With regard to Covid, the company did not comply with the national emergency and that caused widespread contagion. Management consistently fails to respect the collective agreement, and we see the same thing happening with the pandemic. The consequences are also serious for those living in communities near the company, as it does not protect people.”
However, in Chile, where the assets are operated directly by BHP, the unions forced the company to take worker safety very seriously:
“Very few cases have been recorded to date. That is because the unions put pressure on the company to respect health and safety measures. As a Spence union, we had to stop work for 24 hours to make BHP obey some necessary safety measures and to establish clear procedures for notifying suspicious cases. We set aside our differences in order to work together on safety measures for workers,”
said Ronald Salcedo of Chile's Minera Spence union.
However, they accuse the company of engaging in other questionable behaviour. For example, it holds few negotiations with unions, only hires workers who have no underlying health conditions, and has decided to change its work schedules.
Marcelo Franco of Cerro Colorado's Union No. 1 CMCC commented:
“The company took advantage of the situation. For example, by exercizing its power over workers to change shifts. Working hours now fall outside our exceptional work schedule. They make us come in at 7am so they can adjust production and make it run continuously during working hours. At the same time, as many workers are manifesting different health conditions, the company is saying that workers have to be free of illness for six months before coming back to work.”
Glen Mpufane is director of IndustriALL’s mining, diamond, gem, ornaments and jewellery processing sector and leads the campaign demanding that BHP respect the rights of its workers. He said:
“The crisis has exposed the weakness of BHP's employment model; to build resilience, BHP must engage in comprehensive social dialogue, develop strong industrial relations and provide decent work in the new normal.”