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Precarious workers exposed to higher health and safety risks

2 October, 2014Three of the four workers killed last week at a mine in Indonesia partially owned by Rio Tinto were precarious workers. Next Tuesday, on 07 October, IndustriALL affiliates at Rio Tinto will join the global Campaign to “STOP Precarious Work” to demand that Rio Tinto respects workers’ rights, provides a safe workplace and stops undermining jobs through the use of precarious work.

The majority of the unions at Rio Tinto report an increase in the use of precarious work by the company. In France, precarious workers represent around 25 per cent of the workforce whereas five to ten years ago they represented only five per cent. At Qit Madagascar Minerals there are twice as many precarious workers as direct employees. In May this year, Rio Tinto made permanent workers redundant at Hail Creek mine in Australia while continuing to employ casual workers. This illustrates very well Rio Tinto’s race to maximise its profits by replacing its permanent workforce with precarious workers.

Rio Tinto uses triangular employment relationships to escape its responsibility, and undermine trade union work. See the case where hundreds of OMEGA employees in Madagascar were fired.

The recent four deaths at Rio Tinto’s Grasberg mine in Indonesia show once again that precarious workers at Rio Tinto face more health and safety risks than permanent workers. Unions at Rio Tinto worksites indicate that outsourced workers are treated differently from permanent workers when it comes to health and safety. At one site, precarious workers are given antiquated protective equipment compared with direct employees. This is not the only difference of treatment that outsourced workers have to face at Rio Tinto. In South Africa the wage gap between outsourced workers and direct employees is reported by the union to be huge: precarious workers are paid very low salaries and do not receive bonuses. In Alma Quebec, precarious workers earn up to 50 per cent less than permanent and direct workers.

All these abuses were condemned by the Rio Tinto global network when it met last February in Cape Town. As a result, the network decided to organize a Global Day of Action at Rio Tinto on 7 October, the day on which unions around the world mobilize against precarious work.

Unions at Rio Tinto have already fought back to limit the use of precarious work. In 2012, in Canada, after a six-month lockout at Rio Tinto in Alma, the United Steel Workers (USW) succeeded in negotiating a collective agreement limiting the use of outsourced workers to 10 per cent of the worked hours. In Kitimat, UNIFOR negotiated a collective agreement which limits the use of temporary employees to 6.5 per cent of the total hours worked.