Rio Tinto goes lean at the cost of its employees' health; Australians participate in global protest

- October 7, 2014 2 MIN READ

Unsafe working environments, precarious employment and lack of respect for worker’s rights are some of reasons Australian workers are participating in today’s global protests against mining giant Rio Tinto. It’s understandable that Rio Tinto wants to keep its operations lean and maximise profits, but it is doing so at the cost of their employees’ livelihood and health.

As such, in a coordinated day of defiance by thousands of its employees, workers from Rio Tinto sites in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America will be demanding safer workplaces, secure jobs and respect for the rights of workers.

Today’s protests have been organised by IndustriALL Global Union, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries, has a global network of mining affiliates with members at Rio Tinto. Today’s protests against the company comes after a spate of fatalities at a worksite in Indonesia where Rio Tinto has a major investment.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, states in a media release: “For far too long, Rio Tinto has systematically put profits before people, sometimes with fatal consequences. Workers are saying enough is enough. The protests on 7 October are part of IndustriALL’s on-going campaign to demand a new era at Rio Tinto.”

Australia’s main trade union in construction, forestry and forest products, mining and energy production, CFMEU will launch a report into Rio Tinto’s insecure work practices – which the company disguises under the banner of “Direct Engagement”. The report will expose Rio Tinto’s strategy to lock out unions.

Rio Tinto, which has a market value of USD$100 billion, is increasingly turning to contract and subcontracted workers to cut costs. At its Madagascar Minerals operation, there are double the numbers of contract workers as permanent staff. In Australia, Rio Tinto has been attacked for sacking full-time workers en masse but keeping on casual or contract workers at the Hail Creek mine in Queensland.

Last month, five miners were killed in two separate fatal incidents at the Grasberg copper mine in Indonesia where Rio Tinto has the rights to 40% of production above a certain level. Three out of the four miners who died in the second incident were subcontracted workers. The deaths follow the loss of 35 lives at the mine last year alone.

The 7th of October action against Rio Tinto is taking place to coincide with the World Day for Decent Work, when unions around the globe mobilise against precarious work – i.e. jobs that are temporary, casual, contracted-out and often low-wage, low-benefit, unsafe and insecure.