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IndustriALL and Rio Tinto conduct joint mission at Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia

26 September, 2018Global social dialogue between IndustriALL Global Union and Rio Tinto took a significant step forward when both parties undertook a joint mission to Rio Tinto’s massive Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold operations and underground expansion in the remote South Gobi desert of Mongolia.

The joint mission took place from the 17th - 22nd September 2018. Michael Gavin, Rio Tinto’s group head of employee relations, and Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL’s mining director, led their respective delegations. The IndustriALL delegation included regional staff, representatives of local unions, and journalists from Dagens Arbete, the magazine of  Swedish affiliate IF Metal.

A major objective of the mission was to evaluate Rio Tinto’s environmental, social and governance strategies. The operation has not been without controversy. During the mission, consultation was held with the herder community and their elders, the local community, the governor of Khanbogd sum, permanent and contractor employees, and NGOs critical of the operation.

Mongolia is richly endowed in natural resources and is heavily dependent on mining for its economic prospects. Oyu Tolgoi is the jewel in Rio Tinto’s crown, providing the company with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to responsible mining. Rio Tinto took the opportunity provided by the results of the Responsible Mining Index (RMI) to invite IndustriALL to Oyu Tolgoi. 

IndustriALL participates in the RMI, which defines responsible mining as “…mining that demonstrably respects the interests of people and the environment, and contributes discernibly and fairly to broad economic development of the producing country.” Rio Tinto achieved one of the ten strongest results in four different areas: economic development, business conduct, working conditions and environmental responsibility.

IndustriALL held a workshop with Mongolian affiliate, the Federation of Energy, Geology and Mining Workers' Unions, for the leadership and over 40 representative shop stewards. 

There are 16,117 workers at Oyu Tolgoi, split between a permanent Mongolian workforce of about 3,000 and a largely Mongolian and expatriate contractor workforce, involved in the underground expansion project. A major skills transfer from expatriates to Mongolians is a defining feature of skills development and training. 

A large percentage of the Mongolian contracted workforce is set to be made permanent when the underground production comes on line. Evidence of the skills transfer is the large percentage of women operating massive hauling trucks at the open pit mine, and Mongolians holding critical senior management positions.

Glen Mpufane observed:

“The social license to operate is not a given, but must be earned, through transparency and trust in dialogue. Responsible mining is the pathway to obtaining that license”.

The conversation with Rio Tinto over its sustainability performance continues to include other global operations, for example QMM in Madagascar, RBM in South Africa, and the Rössing Uranium mine in Namibia.