Rio Tinto Workers Campaign to Get Rio Tinto ‘Off the Olympic Podium’
Members of the United Steelworkers from Canada are in London this week to protest at an on-going lock out by mining and metals giant Rio Tinto in Alma, Canada.
As part of the campaign they are calling on on the International Olympic Committee to recast London 2012 gold medals because Rio Tinto disrespects the Olympic values of fair play.
The UK-based Rio Tinto is providing 99 per cent of the gold and other metals that are being cast into medals for victorious Olympic athletes.
The United Steelworkers say the deal allows Rio Tinto to promote its association with the most prestigious athletic event in the world and implicitly endorses the company’s commitment to the Olympic values of ‘friendship, solidarity and fair play’.
Rio Tinto is under close scrutiny for a range of alleged environmental, human rights and labour violations at its operations around the world.
Most recently, the company announced plans at a profitable smelter in Quebec Canada to replace retiring employees with contract workers at half the wages and no benefits at all. When employees refused to accept, Rio Tinto locked them out. The dispute has now gone on for over 3 months.
“At those low wage levels, a worker in Quebec cannot support a family,” said Steelworkers Quebec spokesperson Daniel Roy. He said that the union is launching a global campaign to pressure the IOC to drop Rio Tinto as an Olympic supplier.
“Locking out its workers in Quebec is a violation of Rio Tinto’s obligations to fair play under the Olympic Charter,” Roy said. He also said that the effort by Rio Tinto to drive down living wages at one of the most profitable aluminum smelters in the world “is a dangerous precedent for industrial workers and local families everywhere.”
“Rio Tinto is not Olympic calibre in its behaviour toward its own workers and their families,” says Ken Neumann, USW Canada’s National Director. “The company demands unrealistic concessions from employees, and locks them out when they don’t concede. It pollutes the air and water in communities around the world. It has no place alongside the world’s greatest athletes – it’s time to get Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium.”
The global campaign to remove Rio Tinto as an Olympic supplier was launched at a public event, jointly between the United Steelworkers and the global union Workers Uniting – the coalition between the USW and Unite in the UK – at Amnesty International’s UK’s Human Rights Action Centre in London on April 16th.
The campaign includes the creation of the “Off the Podium” web-site and email campaign (link www. offthepodium.org) demanding that Rio Tinto be rejected by the IOC as a supplier and that the medals for the London Games be recast; attendance at an IOC meeting in Quebec City on May 23-25 to ensure that each member of the IOC attending the meeting is made aware of the campaign, and the current labour dispute in Alma, while in Quebec City plus a series of press conferences and rallies with Unite Steelworker members and affiliate members of the International Metal Workers Federation (IMF) International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) in cities around the world.
They are also partnering with organizations such as the London Mining Network to oppose Rio Tinto’s sponsorship and highlight the company’s hypocrisy.
Despite record earnings and year over year profits, Rio Tinto is relentlessly pursuing higher profits at the expense of local workers, families and communities.
The lockout in Quebec is just the latest example of Rio Tinto trying to boost profits by slashing wages for its own employees, with little regard for the impact in the community.
The company tried the same approach at its Boron mine in California in 2010, locking out workers for 107 days. In that case the workers held firm in their opposition to the dramatic wage cuts demanded by Rio Tinto.
Rio Tinto has also been the subject of legal action related to environmental spills, human rights abuses, and criminal wrongdoing in countries like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and China.
A demonstration involving USW, Unite and union members and supporters will also take place at the Rio Tinto AGM at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centreon April 19th from 10:00am