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Trade unions protest one year after Mariana mining disaster

20 October, 2016Trade unions from all over the world are together preparing a protest for 5 November, the first anniversary of the biggest environmental tragedy in Brazil’s history, at the Samarco mine, BHP Billiton.

The disaster occurred on 5 November 2015 at a Samarco Mineração S.A mine in Mariana, Brazil, and the region has still not recovered. IndustriALL Global Union affiliates will take action and seek a response from the company.

“On 3 and 4 November, the first meeting of the BHP Billiton global trade union network will be held in Belo Horizonte to have a political debate about how to confront the multinational.

The day after the meeting will be the first anniversary of the disaster on 5 November, when all the unions representing BHP Billiton employees will meet in Mariana to extend their practical solidarity to affiliates and the affected communities. We are going to send a message to the company that we want it to take responsibility,” said Glen Mpufane, director of IndustriALL Global Union’s mining sector.

One year ago, a dam holding back waste collapsed at a mine run by Samarco Mineração S.A, owned by Vale and BHP Billiton, causing the biggest environmental disaster in the history of Brazil. A flood of toxic sludge caused 19 deaths, affected flora and fauna, and several people remain unaccounted for.

On 17 November, Samarco signed a preliminary commitment to Brazilian inspectors, promising to allocate $US 260 million to fund a series of emergency measures that included the prevention, mitigation, remediation and compensation for the environmental and social effects of the incident.

In August 2016, inspectors took legal action against Samarco, which had not complied with the agreement to pay compensation to 105 families. On 10 October 2016, the Minas Gerais public prosecutor ruled at a hearing in Mariana that Samarco should pay compensation to 28 of the affected families.

“BHP needs to be held accountable for the environmental disaster and for their collective bargaining practices. And that is why it is important for trade union leaders to travel to Brazil for the BHP network meeting. Australian unions will be proud to be there alongside the global trade union movement,” said Tony Maher, national president of the CFMEU, Australia.

IndustriALL affiliates that belong to the BHP global network will meet on the eve of the anniversary of the environmental disaster and attend the protest on 5 November. They have produced a video to publicize the event.

Lucineide Varjão, president of the CNQ/CUT and joint president of IndustriALL’s mining sector, and Edson Bicalho, general secretary of FEQUIMFAR-Força Sindical, reiterated the importance of speaking on behalf of the affected workers.

The new IndustriALL general secretary, Valter Sanches said:

I wish trade unions and social movements success in their solidarity mission to investigate, protest and extend their solidarity regarding the tragedy caused by Samarco, BHP and Vale. The idea is that we can reach agreement on how best to confront the company’s strategy and ensure that nothing like this can happen again.