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IndustriALL and Rio Tinto make joint mission to Madagascar

9 February, 2018In a first for the mining industry, IndustriALL Global Union undertook a joint mission with Rio Tinto to the company’s QMM Ilmenite operation in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar from 30 to 31 January 2018.

The QMM operation has been facing serious challenges regarding health and safety and labour rights, which local management and trade unions had been unable to resolve. These challenges are derived from the excessive and uncontrolled use of sub-contractors, who outnumber permanent employees by three to one. Subcontractor workers at QMM have insecure jobs and lack of access to normal conditions of employment. There is no institutionalized form of worker representation on health and safety, and their right to freedom of association is, at best, tenuous.

Taking part in the joint IndustriALL and Rio Tinto mission to Madagascar, were Rio Tinto management, trade unions comprising Piet Matosa of the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa; Steve Hunt, Alain Croteau and Steeve Arsenault from United Steelworkers/Métallos, Canada; Glen Mpufane from IndustriALL; and representatives from IndustriALL Sub-Sahara Africa Regional Office and local unions.  The group visited the site and later met with local community leaders.

The parties reviewed employment and contracting practices at the site. Local management could not confirm nor deny our affiliates’ claims that wages for sub-contractor employees are just US$45 per month, below the minimum wage of US$53 per month. Workers generally work 15 or 16 hours per day.  The living wage is estimated at around US$400/month and 80 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

There are also systematic challenges for communities and landowners, not unique to mining, related to resettlement and compensation issues, which have been compounded by poverty levels in the country. According to the World Bank, 70 per cent of the island’s 22.6 million population live on less than US$2 a day and 59 per cent on less than US$1.25, ranking the country amongst the poorest in the world.

The parties had a constructive discussion about Rio Tinto’s new Supplier Code of Conduct and how it could be implemented at QMM to help resolve the challenges.  It was generally agreed that implementation of the Code at the site would be a welcome development and improve the well-being of workers.

Michael Gavin, Rio Tinto Head of Employee Relations, said of the mission: “This meeting was a great opportunity for the company and union leaders to demonstrate, at the operations level, how employee representatives and the company can work together respectfully and for mutually beneficial outcomes.”

Steve Hunt, District 3 Director of the United Steelworkers and Co-Chair of IndustriALL’s Mining and Diamond, Gems, Ornament and Jewellery Production Section, and who led the global mission, stated: “We have come a long way since the Rio Tinto campaign.  There is now dialogue and cooperation in place of acrimony.  This meeting demonstrated the fact that Rio Tinto and its major unions are working collaboratively to improve the lives of employees and the company.”

IndustriALL and Rio Tinto later discussed the mission as an example of global dialogue at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba held in Cape Town, South Africa from 5 - 7 February 2018.