The Guardian February 23, 2000


Global union network makesRio Tinto an offer

Trade unions representing Rio Tinto workers around the world have 
declared their readiness to work co-operatively with Rio Tinto and ensure 
that it is "an efficient and competitive producer of minerals and minerals 
products", in return for Rio Tinto recognising "the rights of its workers 
to form unions and bargain collectively".

The unions met in Canberra on February 7-8, under the auspices of the 
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' 
Unions (ICEM). They belong to a global network of trade unions representing 
Rio Tinto employees.

Those attending the Canberra meeting represented workers at Rio Tinto 
operations in Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, South Africa and the 
United States  representing thousands of the company's employees.

Unions with Rio Tinto employees in Brazil, Indonesia, Namibia, New Zealand, 
Norway, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Sweden and Zimbabwe sent their 
fraternal greetings.

Some delegates were prevented from attending by the company which refused 
to give the necessary leave. "It appears that Rio Tinto chooses to act 
globally but wishes to prevent its own workers doing so", said the 
Communique issued by the network following the meeting.

Rio Tinto is the world's largest and most powerful transnational mining 
company. There are continuous reports of its poor health and safety record, 
attacks on trade unions and workers' rights, pollution of the environment, 
and brutal treatment of indigenous peoples.

The unions first came together as a global network two years ago when they 
decided to campaign for the rights of the communities and workers and the 
protection of the environment affected by Rio Tinto's global operations.

The Canberra meeting is the second meeting of the network, and was 
necessary, as the Communique stated, "because the problems that first 
brought us together two years ago are still with us today".

The following is the bulk of the text of the Communique:

Rio Tinto is, in various countries:

* refusing to recognise and bargain with trade unions that represent their 
workforce  especially in Australia;

* contracting out the work of its employees and/or seeking to employ people 
on a temporary rather than permanent basis;

* increasing the shift length and working hours of its workers  often 
without consultation or negotiation;

* relying on the support of military forces and/or governments to secure 
its operations rather than working with trade unions and their communities 
in an open and mutually supportive framework;

* a major supplier of diamonds to the Indian diamond cutting industry 
wherein there is a high rate of child labour;

* accused of victimising union delegates and activists by targeting them 
for retrenchment.

We declare that:

 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 
through the offering of individual employment contracts rather than bargain 
with unions is 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 agreed independent monitoring and compliance 
mechanism in which trade unions participate.

 Rio Tinto must recognise the ICEM Rio Tinto unions network as the 
legitimate representative of workers in its operations at the global level.

Finally, we, the unions of the Rio Tinto global network, declare that, 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 the 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.

"United we bargain; divided we beg!"

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