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Mining unions in solidarity to confront COVID-19

2 July, 2020“International solidarity is a must”, is a key strategy of IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in the mining and diamond, ornaments, and jewelry production (DGOJP) sector to confront the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mining unions came together for a virtual meeting on 30 June, with more than 130 participants from some 40 countries.

In the light of the devastating pandemic, participants paid tribute to the frontline public health workers, describing them as superheroes. Mineworkers were described as caught between national economic interests derived from mining and their own health and safety, as well as that of their communities, with mining coming companies putting profit above any other consideration, as mining is declared an essential service in most countries. 

Mines in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Poland, and South Africa have become epi-centres of the disease.

In his opening remark, sector co-chair Steve Hunt described the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the poor and working class, and how global solidarity amongst mineworkers and the promotion and strict adherence to ILO Convention 176, was critical in combatting the impact of the crisis.

Lucineide Varjao Soares, sector co-chair, underlined how lack of democracy, violation of fundamental rights and bad governance has turned Covid-19 into an unprecedented crisis in Brazil, with more than 60,000 deaths and over a million people infected in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

Women are hard hit by the crisis. In addition to the hostile environment of the industry towards women, there is the additional burden of caring for the sick. In mines still operational, the practice of social distancing has brought some relief to women mineworkers, often subjected to sexual harassment through inappropriate touching by men in over-crowded lifts.

The meeting agreed that Covid-19 should be recognized as an occupational disease, noting the recognition by Argentina and South Africa. ILO C 176 on safety and health in mines should be used to deal with the coronavirus; articles 5 and 7 state that national regulations must ensure that the employer has a health and safety plan and “eliminate or minimize risks” at mines.

The campaign for ratification of ILO C176 should be intensified in Madagascar and India.  

Attacks against workers’ rights are increasing around the world, Unions confirmed that hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost through retrenchments. Contractors are the most vulnerable, with most of the global mining industry under partial or full lockdown, and some on care and maintenance.

The plight of Ukraine mineworkers over their long struggle for the payment of their wage arrears was highlighted, as was the struggle in India against privatization of the coal industry. In Morocco, wages have been cut, and unpaid leave is common in most countries. Further, precarious conditions of short contracts, low wages, and poor working conditions are becoming common.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining and DGOJP, said that although Covid-19 has caused demand and supply side disruptions in the global mining industry, workers should not be sacrificial lambs.

“There needs to be a responsible and best practice approach in dealing with the pandemic that contains a minimum non-negotiable provisions; income security, respect for fundamental workers’ rights and collective bargaining and the striving for the highest level of occupational health and safety, as per ILO C176.

“Mining companies are obliged to adhere to national and international labour standards, and not use the pandemic as an excuse to violate workers’ rights."

In order to promote responsible mining during Covid-19, IndustriALL is working with the Initiative for Responsible Mining, the Responsible Mining Index, and is in direct conversations with Anglo American, Glencore and Rio Tinto, notwithstanding the challenges that exist with Glencore and Rio Tinto in some countries.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said solidarity is key and reminded the unions of their historic role to fight for their rights.

“To best protect and advance the rights of our members, international solidarity is critical in this challenging environment of the pandemic.”