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Rio Tinto seeks conflict with unions at global meeting

23 February, 2015Rio Tinto cut short a meeting with global union leaders when the leaders rejected the company’s demand to end their campaign exposing Rio Tinto’s unsustainable practices.

The meeting was held at Rio Tinto’s office in Zurich on 6 February. It was jointly agreed to by a Rio Tinto Executive Committee member and IndustriALL Global Union, with the backing of a global network of unions at Rio Tinto. The company had agreed in advance to a fixed agenda for the meeting.

“Rio Tinto behaved arrogantly from the start of the meeting, issuing ultimatums, threatening legal action and talking over us. I’ve rarely seen that sort of behavior by management since the apartheid era ended,” stated National Union of Mineworkers South Africa General Secretary and IndustriALL Vice President Frans Baleni.

“I made the trip from Australia to Switzerland in the hopes of making progress on problems that Rio Tinto’s Australian management has refused to address. These include extensive bullying and alleged sexual harassment at the company’s Hunter Valley Coal operations,” said CFMEU Mining & Energy General Secretary and IndustriALL Mining Chair Andrew Vickers.

“Instead, Rio Tinto said they were only willing to talk if we accepted their ultimatum to end our campaign. The company publicly claims they are willing to work with key stakeholders like unions, but the message they sent to us was ‘my way or the highway’.”

“Rio Tinto’s behavior in Labrador, Canada is bad for business and bad for workers. There are 2,300 outstanding grievances that are demoralizing the workforce, and local management refuses to work with the union to address them,” said USW staff representative Euclid Hache.

“We hoped that Rio Tinto’s corporate management would work with us to find a path toward less conflictual labor relations in Labrador. Instead they rejected dialog and escalated the conflict.”

“Unfortunately I was not surprised,” said Rio Tinto European Works Council Secretary Véronique Roche. “Rio Tinto routinely fails to dialogue with or respect their European employees and unions.”

“IndustriALL has over the last year run a campaign to expose the huge gap between Rio Tinto’s sustainability claims and its actual practices. Our aim – as we have made clear over the course of the campaign – is to convince Rio Tinto to live up to its own claims. That would make Rio Tinto a better, more successful company and be good for all the company’s stakeholders,” said IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan.

Unfortunately the campaign has not yet achieved its aim, as Rio Tinto corporate management demonstrated by refusing to continue dialog with us. So we will redouble our efforts.