Unions around the world yesterday joined to turn the spotlight on the employment practices of multinational mining giant Rio Tinto.
The International Day of Action against Rio Tinto saw protests around the world held to raise awareness about the unsatisfactory work conditions for workers on Rio Tinto sites, which were co-ordinated by global union group Industriall.
The day of action included rallies, stop work meetings and other worksite actions.
The CFMEU also launched a report yesterday entitled ‘Rio Tinto and Direct Engagement’, examining the anti-union practices of the mining giant.
Report author and Professor of Employment Relations at Sydney University Bradon Ellem argued that the long-held policy of ‘direct engagement’ described efforts to exclude unions from playing a meaningful role in its workplaces.
“It is important to understand the real nature of ‘direct engagement’ because of the influence that Rio has over other companies and, often, over government labour relations policies,” Ellem said.
“There is, of course, nothing wrong in saying that companies need to directly engage with their workers over day-to-day matters.
“In fact, not only is there nothing wrong with it, it is a perfectly normal part of the business of any enterprise.”
However, Ellem highlights the nature of the Rio Tinto policy as one which seeks to exclude ‘third parties’ from the employee relations process, pointing out that ‘statutory authorities or unions’ are viewed as ‘external parties’ which are not a part of the workplace.
Ellem argued that the unions are seen as a part of the workplace by their members, to the extent that those members make up the workforce.
Global actions against Rio Tinto included smelter stop-works at the Tiwai Point Aluminium smelter in New Zealand, protests at Rio Tinto’s Kitimat site in British Columbia where there are 400 outstanding grievances among 1100 workers, as well as other countries around the world.
Last month, five miners were killed in two separate fatal incidents, with three out of the four miners who died in the second incident hired as subcontracted workers.
These deaths follow the loss of 35 lives at the Grasberg mine last year alone.
Rio Tinto have also been criticised for sacking full time permanent employees at the Hail Creek Mine in Queensland, while retaining sub-contracted employees.
CFMEU Mining and Energy General Secretary Andrew Vickers said that Rio Tinto stood out as a bad employer and corporate citizen in Australia and around the world.
“Rio Tinto has an appalling record on labour rights, environmental damage, dislocation of indigenous people and anti-union practices,” Vickers said.
“They are leading the push towards casual and insecure employment in Australian mines – a key driver of unfair and unsafe work practices.
“Despite the 'direct engagement' jargon, the reality is that Rio Tinto is a large, powerful employer and no individual worker has a hope of engaging equally with them.
“Time and again we see that this results in bullying, unfair sackings and punishing rosters.”
A spokesperson for Rio Tinto Australia said the company rejected these attacks.
"Safety is Rio Tinto’s number one value – there is nothing more important to the company than ensuring each worker goes home safely every day," they said.
"We also strive to provide the best possible working conditions for our employees.
"It is disappointing that the union movement has decided to target Rio Tinto given our unwavering commitment to safety, workplace health and the best possible employment conditions.”