19 July, 2023From 26 June to 3 July, Madagascar’s independence days, communities from the villages surrounding the Rio Tinto subsidiary QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM) mining site at Mandena in Toalagnaro (Fort Dauphin) protested inadequate financial compensation on loss of livelihoods, water pollution, and community exclusion from consultations when the mining licence was renewed by the government. In dispersing the protestors, the police and gendarmerie used disproportionate force which saw ten demonstrators injured and over 80 arrested and imprisoned, including five trade unionists.
QMM, owned 20 per cent by the Malagasy state and the remaining 80 per cent by Rio Tinto, mines ilmenite which is used to make titanium dioxide used in paints, inks, fabrics, plastics, paper, and other products. The community says it has lost means of livelihood from the forests which include food, water, shelter, and medicines, amongst other benefits. Further, it is now exceedingly difficult to catch fish in the lagoon because of the mining activities.
The United Steelworkers (USW), which represent 850,000 members in Canada and the United States, and has close partnerships with Malagasy unions, the Syndicalisme et Vie des Societes (SVS) Anosy and Sendika Kristanina Malagasy (SEKRIMA) that represent workers at QMM, said the protests, “follow on from other episodes of civil unrest in the past, fuelled by what is perceived as a lack of effort by Rio Tinto to engage in meaningful consultation or dialogue with the affected communities.”
“Our union strongly condemns what we consider targeted attacks against union activists, and therefore on the freedom of association and the right to protest. The actions of the Malagasy police send a clear message of fear and intimidation to workers who wish to exercise their rights in a context which was already dire for organizers,"
says Marty Warren, USW national director for Canada.
The USW also wants the government to drop the arrest warrants against Eugène Chrétien and Laurent Manjary, and instead “open channels of communications with the protesters in order to find a peaceful, lasting resolution to this ongoing conflict.”
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, says:
“We reiterate calls for peaceful and non-adversarial approaches to addressing genuine concerns of the community and trade unions at QMM over the adverse effects of mining in Fort Dauphin. Engagement in social dialogue is necessary for the stakeholders to find an amicable solution. However, intimidation, arrests, and imprisonment, are detrimental to resolving community and industrial disputes.”
The partnership between USW and the unions in Madagascar is anchored by a project to strengthen the Malagasy unions’ internal capacity on organizing strategies, training, workers and human rights, and effective trade unionism. The USW and SEKRIMA are affiliated to IndustriALL.