Undermined Workers' Rights
Mine workers around the world have begun to organize globally In order to defend their rights and protect their health and safety in the workplace.
In 1998, for example, members of the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (ICEM) formed the Rio Tinto Global Network to confront the labor practices of the Rio Tinto Corporation. Rio Tinto operates in 40 countries and is the world's largest private mining company. The Global Network charges that the company has employed union-busting activities, some of which might qualify as human rights abuses, at mines in various parts of the world. Among the charges are accusations that Rio Tinto fired HIV-positive workers in Zimbabwe; that it spied on and fired union leaders, and subjected workers at the Paracatu gold mine to highly toxic levels of lead in Brazil; and that it violated a 2-day-old collective bargaining agreement with mass layoffs in Utah.
Mineworkers in underground shafts.
However, labor organizing in the mines remains a difficult and risky business. In some countries, such as China, Burma (Myanmar), and Laos, organizing independent unions is illegal. In Burma, workers are not only prohibited from forming unions, but have sometimes even been subjected to forced labor, such as at the Monywa Copper Mine, operated by the Canadian corporation Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., where the ILO reports that in the mid-1990s, nearly a million forced laborers worked to build the hydroelectric plant and railway servicing the mine.
Even where unions are legal, workers active in the union movement often face intimidation or dismissal. And sometimes the hostility to the unions turns deadly. In Colombia, where one trade unionist is killed every other day -- more than any other country -- a substantial share of human rights violations against unionists occurs in the mining and power sectors. In 2001, eleven members of the metals, mining and oil workers' union federations were killed. The painful fact is that miners, like the minerals they produce, are still generally treated as a disposable resource.
For more information:
Undermining Workers. A section of Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment.
The International Labor Organization and Mining: