Mineworkers at IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in three different continents are facing attacks from multinational companies seeking to cut jobs, slash benefits and drive down wages. International solidarity and unity is needed to counter these attacks.
Hecla Mining Company in the USA, Anglo American in Australia, and Freeport-McMoRan in Indonesia, are trying to break trade unions by refusing to enter into fair negotiations. The attacks are part of a global trend in the industry:
“The common thread that runs through the three disputes is profit maximization through violation and abuse of trade union rights. These disputes, although separate, are essentially one struggle,” said IndustriALL General Secretary, Valter Sanches. “We need to work towards negotiating collective bargaining agreements that function across borders as a common response.”
Trouble in the USA
Miners belonging to IndustriALL affiliate, the United Steelworkers of America (USW), have been on strike at Hecla Mining Company’s Lucky Friday silver mine in Idaho since 13 March 2017, after collective bargaining negotiations collapsed.
Hecla’s final proposal delivered on 10 March stipulated changes in staffing procedures that USW believes would result in a dramatic drop in safety and jeopardize lives. It would also greatly reduce worker benefits and make jobs less secure.
Workers unanimously voted down this “last, best, and final” offer from the company and subsequently went on strike. Nonetheless, the USW Local 5114 is ready to bargain and says it wants nothing more than to keep their benefits, secure jobs and maintain a safe work environment.
IndustriALL Global Union has written a protest letter to Hecla Mining urging their President and CEO, Phillips S. Baker Jr, to ensure that the strike does not escalate and to urgently ensure that Hecla enters into good faith negotiations over a new labour contract with United Steelworkers Local 5114.
Miners pay the price in Indonesia
Mineworkers in Indonesia are the sacrificial lambs in the recent clash between the government and US-based gold and copper mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) over the terms of a new operating contract. The dispute led to the government banning the shipment of copper concentrate from mid January 2017 until the beginning of April, which directly hit exports by FCX’s Grasberg mine, PT Freeport Indonesia.
Consequently, local members of the Chemical, Energy and Mines Workers Union at Freeport Indonesia are under threat of being furloughed. Although furlough involves a temporary lay-off from work, the company is forcing voluntary severance packages on workers.
Freeport is determined to proceed with its plans without negotiating with the union, even at the expense of violating Indonesian laws and regulations with specific reference to the furlough programme at Grasberg.
The union has sent three letters inviting the company to negotiate but the company has refused to even acknoweldege or reply to the letters.
Australian miners in stand off
In Australia, workers at the Anglo American-owned German Creek Coal Mine have been on strike since August 2016, after two years of failed attempts to renew the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) between the company and IndustriALL affiliate the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).
Even though protected by law, it has not deterred Anglo American from bringing in scab labour to try and break the strike. Nonetheless, mineworkers have stood firm in their resolve to protect their jobs.
Workers are demanding the removal of a clause to ensure secure, steady jobs for workers and to stop the casualization of the permanent workforce; a fair and transparent process in the event of retrenchments; maintenance of current rates of remuneration; and demands for a safe and health work environment.
“Attacks on unions from mining companies are happening all the time in all corners of the world. But the harder they push, the stronger we will fight back. Through international solidarity and working as one, we can take on mining multinationals to get a better deal for all workers,” said Andrew Vickers, Co-chair of IndustriALL’s mining section and general secretary of CFMEU Mining & Energy of Australia.