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Moroccan miners hold underground sit-in

17 December, 2020100 Moroccan mine workers have spent the past week 700 metres underground, occupying the Jebel Aouam mine near M’rirt in Khénifra province. Another 200 workers are protesting above ground.

Jebel Aouam mine

The workers are striking and occupying the mine because the management of Compagnie Minière de Touissit (CMT) failed to implement an agreement signed with IndustriALL affiliate l’Union Marocaine du travail (UMT) in 2019. The agreement, signed in the presence of a representative of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Environment and of the local authority, guaranteed improved living conditions, better working conditions inside the mine, and the provision of occupational health and safety measures.

Workers agreed a productivity target at the mine, which produces silver, gold, lead and zinc. The workers met the productivity target, but management failed to honour its side of the agreement. After continued failure by management to meet its obligations, and failure by the Ministry and local authorities to intervene, the UMT members were forced to take the desperate action of going on strike and staging an underground sit-in.

The union considers the occupation to be dangerous to the health of the miners, many of whom suffer from chronic occupational illnesses due to unsafe conditions on the mine. Their already compromised health is further threatened by the pandemic.

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches wrote to the Moroccan government, saying:

“It is imperative that your ministry act without delay to help establish genuine dialogue which leads to satisfactory results. We are extremely concerned for the safety of the miners, many of whom suffer from chronic occupational diseases. The situation is all the more urgent as we are in the midst of a terrible pandemic.”

The area around Jebel Aouam has been mined since 1929. CMT, a subsidiary of French-headquartered mining group Auplata, is the leading producer of lead and silver in Morocco. There has been conflict at the mine since 2017, including a previous occupation, which was resolved after the new contract was signed. Conflict erupted again this year after the company failed to honour the contract.