Rio Tinto to face rehab and labour hire concerns at AGM

Today’s annual general meeting for Rio Tinto in Perth will hear calls for commitment to rehabilitation of the Ranger Uranium Mine, as well as concerns about the casualisation of Australian workforces.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) will urge Rio Tinto take responsibility for the actions of subsidiary company Energy Resources Australia and commit to the full rehabilitation of the Ranger site, located in the Kakadu World Heritage region.

Last year Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh refused to accept responsibility for rehab at Ranger at last year’s AGM in London, saying that ERA was a public Australian company and that rehab was “clearly an issue for them”.

Last month at the London AGM, Rio Tinto chair Jan Du Plessis expressed Rio Tinto’s appreciation for the need to rehabilitate the Ranger site.

“We absolutely appreciate the need to take care of that site and to make sure it is properly rehabilitated and that it is restored in the way that people would expect from this company,” Du Plessis said.

“I can assure you today however that should the board of ERA should at any point call a rights issue to get further capital into the company, we will follow our rights as shareholders to put further capital into the company so that they can meet their obligations.”

Rio Tinto, the 68 per cent owner of ERA, is expected to assess a pre-feasibility study looking at increased finance for the Ranger 3 Deeps project, which will extend the mine life beyond the current expected finish of 2021.

If Rio Tinto decides not to fund the Ranger 3 Deeps underground expansion, ERA will be left to seek funding to complete rehabilitation of the existing mine, expected to cost $513 million.

ERA currently holds cash reserves of $293 million.

AFR reported that sources in Rio Tinto say management has concerns about the financial viability of the new project, as well the continuing low price of uranium.

Over the past four years Ranger has recorded EBIT losses of $284 million due to depressed prices and operational setbacks such as the leach tank failure in late 2013 which resulted in suspension of production for seven months.

“Across Australia and around the world Rio Tinto will be closely watched and long judged on how it manages the closure and rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine,” said ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney.

ACF campaigner Dave Sweeney said Rio Tinto was responsible for the rehabilitation carried out by ERA, and that ethical management was required to demonstrate the company’s commitment to environmental concerns.

“Across Australia and around the world Rio Tinto will be closely watched and long judged on how it manages the closure and rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine,” Sweeney said.

“Rio has a responsibility to ensure ERA fully honours its extensive rehabilitation obligations.

“This week Rio Tinto has a platform to demonstrate it is serious about its reputation and its rhetoric.”

The CFMEU will also address Rio Tinto in Perth today over casualisation of coal mining jobs and the impact on mine safety.

CFMEU Mining and Energy general secretary Andrew Vickers said the growing proportion of casual labour hire roles in coal mines was affecting job security, which in turn discouraged workers from speaking up about safety concerns.

“A growing proportion of jobs in coal mines are now filled by labour hire contractors rather than permanent positions – well over a third of jobs in many mines,” Vickers said.

“This is a bad outcome for workers, who have little job security and don’t enjoy the same pay and conditions as permanent employees, but it’s also a disaster for mine safety.

“Contract workers know they could lose their job in an instant if they raise a concern about safety that might impact production and this fear is leading directly to accidents.”

CFMEU members attending the AGM in Perth are expected to raise statistics from Hunter Valley mines which show that contract workers, who represent 35 to 40 per cent of the workforce, account for 66 per cent of Lost Time Injuries (LTI) over the last year, approximately double the LTI rate of permanent staff.

“Mining companies like Rio Tinto might like the control they have over a casualised workforce – but it’s a dangerous trend,” Vickers said.

“We urge Rio Tinto to prioritise permanent, secure jobs in all its operations.”

Queensland MP Jim Pearce raised the issue in parliament on Tuesday night, saying workers who feared for their jobs were reluctant to raise safety concerns, which was an industry-wide concern.

“We have safety issues in the mining industry simply because workers do not have the courage to step forward and lodge a concern or identify a risk. That is not right,” he said.

“They should be able to step forward and identify these risks and know that the company is backing them.

“However, if they do it with the culture in existence in the industry at the moment, they will then have a big target on their back.

Pearce said the LNP had allowed mining companies to do as they pleased in Queensland, and called on the Palaszczuk government to pull mining companies back into line.

“If people are going to face being targeted by the company that is just not acceptable. We have to do something about that.