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Rio Tinto Unions Offer To Work With Company - But It Must Respect Labour Rights

ICEM Update, no. 10/2000, February 9 2000

Unions within global mining giant Rio Tinto recognise that the company has to be efficient and competitive, and they are prepared to work with Rio Tinto to achieve this. But the company, for its part, must recognise workers' right to form trade unions and to bargain collectively. There must also be independent monitoring of its compliance with basic labour rights.

That is the message from the network of unions representing Rio Tinto workers worldwide. The offer came at the end of the network's meeting in Canberra, Australia, on 7-8 February.

The unions' main declarations:

  • "We recognise the need for Rio Tinto to be an efficient and competitive producer of minerals and mineral products and are prepared to work with the company to that end."
  • "The cooperation of the workforce with the company in achieving its goals must be on the basis of company recognition of the rights of its workers to form trade unions and bargain collectively. To date the company has not met this basic obligation in many of its operations."
  • "Continuing efforts by the company to fragment and isolate its workforce though the offering of individual employment contracts rather than bargain with unions are in direct contravention of this basic obligation."
  • "Until the company respects the basic rights of its workers, the trade unions in the global network will campaign against the company in domestic and international forums and in cooperation with other organisations and peoples who have grievances with the company. We see the success of our campaign as linked with other campaigns over the protection of human rights (in particular, the rights of indigenous peoples in or near Rio Tinto operations) and the protection of the environment from poor mining practices. This campaign will take many forms, and be based on the problems that the company is causing in each operation."
  • "At the global level, the unions in Rio Tinto operations will campaign, in conjunction with the wider labour movement, for the company to abide by the seven core labour standards of the UN's International Labour Organisation and the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. These standards cover freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain, the abolition of forced and child labour, equal pay and the prevention of discrimination in the workplace. Rio Tinto is currently in breach of these basic labour standards on many counts."
  • "Any commitment the company may make in respect of these core labour standards must provide for an independent monitoring and compliance mechanism in which trade unions participate."
  • "In an age of globalisation and ever-larger multinational corporations, it is increasingly important for the labour movement to organise internationally to protect and advance the position of working people. We see ourselves as leading the way in making global corporations accountable to the communities in which they operate. The globalisation of big business demands a global response from workers as well as governments. The Rio Tinto global union network is part of that response."

Union delegates from Rio Tinto operations in Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, South Africa and the United States took part in the Canberra meeting. Messages of support were received from network unions in Brazil, Indonesia, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Sweden and Zimbabwe. However, the meeting voiced concern that the company seemed to have prevented some delegates from attending. "It appears that Rio Tinto chooses to act globally but wishes to prevent its own workers doing so," the network commented.

Organising the Canberra event was the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM). The host was ICEM-affiliated Australian mining and allied union the CFMEU, whose National Secretary John Maitland is the ICEM's President.

Some of the international delegates are now visiting Rio Tinto sites in Australia to meet their colleagues there. But difficulties have arisen over access to certain sites. Urgent efforts are under way to resolve these problems with the company.