Striking Peru Mineworkers Demand Decent Work

Striking Peru Mineworkers Demand Decent Work

Protesting laws that facilitate mass layoffs and enable large-scale subcontracting of workers’ jobs, tens of thousands of Peruvian mineworkers launched a strike Tuesday at the nation’s gold, copper, tin and silver mines in regions such as Cerro de Pasco, Puno, Ancash, and Huánuco. Marching in the main square of Juliaca yesterday, mineworkers shouted, “Down with the outsourcing law, mineworkers unite!”

The Mineworkers Federation describes the outsourcing law and why it needs to be repealed in this brochure.

The Mineworkers Federation describes the outsourcing law and why it needs to be repealed in this brochure.

Members of the Mineworkers Federation (FNTMMSP), a Solidarity Center ally, are seeking to halt worker layoffs and prevent passage of a proposed law that, among other detrimental outcomes, would allow 10 percent of workers to be fired when a company reports losses. They are demanding the government repeal outsourcing legislation that union leaders say enables employers to divide the workforce and violate worker rights. (The Mineworkers Federation describes the outsourcing law and why it needs to be repealed in this brochure.)

The Federation is calling for all outsourced workers who currently perform core functions of mining operations to be moved into permanent contracts and also seeks modifications in legislation that would allow outsourced workers to benefit from annual profit sharing, which is the legal right of directly-employed mineworkers.

Further, the Federation is calling for a repeal of additions to Peru’s Health and Safety Law, enacted last July at the request of employers, which make it more difficult for injured workers or their families to hold employers accountable for workplace injuries, among other harmful measures.

Ivan Granados, a mineworker, said employers already are using the mass layoff legislation. Granados told Telesur that “at work, they are starting to fire the workers, saying that the company is losing money. They are … harassing people with threats of firing them. That is why we are here fighting.”

Mining accounts for up to 15 percent of the Peru’s gross national product, and mining exports have grown 4.7 percent over the past year.

“The mineral wealth of a country should be used for the benefit of the people, including the workers, and not to destroy the environment for the benefit of the corporations and politicians,” say United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard and Sindicato Nacional de Mineros President Napoleón Gómez Urrutia in a joint statement backing the mineworkers.

The USW and Sindicato Nacional de Mineros, whose solidarity statements were read at a press conference yesterday, are part of a broad coalition of supporters Peruvian mineworkers are engaging, one that includes the Confederación General de Trabajadores del Perú (CGTP), unions from the telecommunications, textile/apparel and oil/petroleum industries, as well as independent unions—Red Solidaria—and student and youth organizations. A coalition of students, young workers and unions earlier this year successfully repealed a law that reduced salaries and benefits for workers under age 25.

The Mineworkers Federation and its affiliated unions built the campaign to address outsourcing in the mining sector following Solidarity Center trainings and workshops, begun last year, in which they gained information about documenting worker rights violations and developing a policy proposal to improve outsourcing legislation.

Over the past six months, the Solidarity Center also has supported regional workshops for Federation affiliates to raise awareness and collect more information about how outsourcing is undermining decent working conditions—including health and safety in the mines—freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain in Peru’s mines.

The Mineworkers Federation also has filed a lawsuit alleging that the outsourcing law is unconstitutional, which has been accepted by Peru’s Constitutional Court for review.

Mexican Mineworkers Choose to Join Los Mineros

Miners at the El Coronel mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, voted to join the union Los Mineros. Photo: Julia Quiñonez

Miners at the El Coronel mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, voted to join the union Los Mineros. Photo: Julia Quiñonez

Mineworkers at the El Coronel gold mine in Zacatecas, Mexico, have voted to join the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Similar Workers of the Mexican Republic, known as “Los Mineros” or SNTMMSSRM in Spanish, with 425 workers voting for the union to be its bargaining representative.

A team of international observers from non-governmental organizations and unions monitored the election and reported that the “voting on February 21 was conducted in a substantively fair and transparent manner, free of interference from the employer or government officials.”

Three unions were represented on the ballot, including Los Mineros. As it has done on previous occasions when there is concern of violence or vote-rigging, the Solidarity Center convened an international team of observers to ensure that the voting process was fair. The team served as a visible presence seeking to reduce the risk of any clashes, intimidation, or harassment and to detect any irregularities in the process that could have hindered the successful completion of a free election. Members of the independent observation team are all trained and experienced in international protocols for election observation, such as only interviewing workers after they have voted and not asking workers which union they voted for or other personal information.

The team included representatives of the Solidarity Center, United Steelworkers (USW), Border Committee of Women Workers (Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO), the Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) and Project for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ProDESC).

More details about the campaign are available from the USW.

Mexican Mine Workers Mark Anniversary of Two Killed in Strike

Some 5,000 Los Mineros members and their families rallied in memory of two workers slain while on strike. Credit: Lorraine Clewer

Some 5,000 Los Mineros members and their families rallied in memory of two workers slain while on strike. Credit: Lorraine Clewer

Mario Alberto Castillo and Hector Alvarez Gümez were among 500 members of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers, known as Los Mineros, who had been on strike for 18 days when 800 police moved in to forcibly remove the strikers. Two men were shot dead and 41 injured, two of them seriously, during the break-up of the strike. No arrests were ever made for the murders.

Dressed in red shirts, some 5,000 Los Mineros members, along with their families, marched to a stone memorial erected in memory of the two men. They were joined by 100 Steelworkers from steel plants throughout District 7 in Indiana and Illinois, a delegation of 10 Unite the Union members from across the United Kingdom and four representatives from Peru representing the mine, metal, steel and energy sectors.

Union members from Peru's mine, metal, steel and energy sectors joined the Los Mineros commemoration. Credit: Lorraine Clewer

Union members from Peru’s mine, metal, steel and energy sectors joined the Los Mineros commemoration. Credit: Lorraine Clewer

Greeting the mineworkers from his exile in Canada, Los Mineros General Secretary Napoleón Gómez Urrutia noted that although the international community recognizes the legitimacy and leadership of Los Mineros, the Mexican government makes it impossible for him to return to Mexico. Mexico’s labor minister has said publicly that he does not recognize Gómez Urrutia‘s leadership of Los Mineros.

Participants in the memorial also condemned the ongoing repression of the Mexican government against Los Mineros and against all independent unions in Mexico, and called for concrete resolutions to violations of workers’ right to freedom of association in Mexico.

The company, Sicartsa, owned by Grupo Vallacero, was sold to ArcelorMittal after the strike. Los Mineros subsequently negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with ArcelorMittal, which included a 42 percent salary increase.

The April 20, 2006, shooting deaths occurred two months after 65 mineworkers, Los Mineros members, were killed in the Pasta de Conchos mine explosion.

Also speaking at the gathering, Lorraine Clewer, Solidarity Center country program director in Mexico, said that the bullets that had killed Mario Alberto Castillo and Hector Alvarez Gomez did not achieve their aim.

“Los Mineros lives on, stronger than ever, and we are certain that soon the international labor movement will be celebrating Napoleon Gómez Urrutia’s triumphant return to Mexico.

Huge Court Win for 16,599 Fired Mexican Electricity Workers

Electricity workers in Mexico won a big victory when a court last week upheld an earlier ruling finding the termination of their collective bargaining contract was invalid.

In October 2009, the Mexican government liquidated the state-owned electricity supply company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, and transferred its functions to the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). The action left 44,000 workers, members of the Mexican Union of Electricity Workers (Sindicato de Electricistas de México, SME), without jobs.

Nearly a third of the fired workers, 16,599 people, refused severance pay when the union dissolved. According to Mexican law, the workers who did not take severance shall be offered reinstatement and paid back wages.

“We won!” said Carlos de Buen, the lawyer for SME, which brought the case on behalf of the workers. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of workers and their families gathered to celebrate the October 11 victory, which came exactly three years to the day the union was dissolved, De Buen said: “A court has definitely resolved that you have to be reinstated to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), and no matter how they try to stall on that, there is no going back. You’ve won the legal battle and now we have to make sure it is upheld.”

In backing SME’s case, the first circuit’s Second Collegiate Labor Court ruled that the termination of electricity workers’ employment contracts was invalid and that the CFE is their new employer. The government had asserted force majeure—circumstances beyond its control—in terminating the union contract, a strategy it also has used to break strikes, such as the one by Mexican mine workers at Cananea copper mine.

“We will celebrate at the general meeting,” said Martín Esparza Flores, SME general secretary. “We carried on this fight to defend trade union organization, to defend the terms of our collective agreement, to continue defending the electricity industry and to recover our jobs.”

Workers who did not accept severance three years ago have made ends meet with the help of retired SME members and other union allies backing their struggle, including strong support from the United Steelworkers and other unions.

SME members, who received global support, occupied Mexico City’s central square, the Zócalo, for much of last year, where they were joined by other independent unions, human rights groups, peace activists and students.

The government likely will appeal the court’s decision, according to Solidarity Center Country Program Director Lorraine Clewer.

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