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Unions call on BHP to respect health and safety

27 August, 2020IndustriALL’s BHP network is urging the company to respect the right to occupational health and safety at all its global operations during the Covid-19 crisis.

Union representatives from Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia and Peru met online on 20–21 August, to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on BHP operations and union responses.

IndustriALL mining director, Glen Mpufane, said:

“BHP claims to prioritize safety and that it is introducing protocols, systems and transport measures in response to Covid-19 in Latin America, saying that it has not had a single death linked to the virus. But we have reports to the contrary.”

Participants pointed out that while BHP in Australia and Canada is implementing proper occupational health and safety measures for the Coronavirus pandemic, the same cannot be said of its operations in Latin America.

As reported by Grahame Kelly, general secretary of Australian union CFMEU’s Mining and Energy Division, and its district president for Queensland, Stephen Smyth:

“We haven’t had any cases in Queensland. The apparent success we’ve had so far is thanks to the union, which engaged with the government and lobbied for the introduction of measures and standards. The Australian Government Department of Health, for example, introduced a series of protocols through legislation drawn up for the mining industry.”

However, the situation is very different in Peru.

Sergio Cruz said:

“BHP claims it has had zero deaths. But this is not the case at Antamina Peru (in which BHP is a shareholder), where there has been two Covid-19 deaths so far. The situation is extremely worrying, because the level of transmission is very high in the mining sector. Mining companies are not taking on board the workers’ health and safety requirements.”

The situation is similar for BHP workers in Chile, where the workers staged a 24-hour stoppage when the pandemic broke out, to press for measures and protocols to be able to continue to work.

Marcelo Franco explained:

“The initial measures were very basic, as it was thought to be short-lived and that people could work under those conditions. Unfortunately, it spread quickly and the figures at the Cerro Colorado Mining Company (owned by BHP) rocketed. Contract workers have been hit hard, with 40 per cent of the contractors laid off.”

Like Peru, Chile and Colombia reported that the rate of transmission and deaths was still rising.

Igor Díaz, president of Colombian mining union Sintracarbón, explained that there had been more than 250 cases among workers at the Cerrejón mine, partly owned  by BHP, and that two workers had died as a result of Covid-19 in the mines.

Participants agreed to continue the campaign to press BHP to respect the rights of its workers across the world, urging the mining giant to address health and safety requirements at its operations in Latin America and to ensure respect for contract workers around the globe.

The network will also press BHP to deliver on its promise of a 50 per cent female workforce by 2025 and to implement gender equality throughout its production line, not just at management and board levels, as well as urging the company to introduce measures to tackle gender-based violence.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, concluded:

“BHP is not responsible for Covid-19 but it is essential that the network of BHP workers join forces and wage a global campaign to defend the right to health and safety at work. We need to expose the shortcomings of the different BHP operations and highlight the disconnect between what shareholders are being told and what is actually happening on the ground.”