Mining Strike in Peru
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This article reports 35,000-40,000 miners in Peru joining a strike this week. Think for just a second about the effort it would take to organize that many people to do anything!
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Source: Inter Press Service News Agency
Striking Miners to March on Lima
LIMA, Apr 30 (IPS) - Peru's miners began an indefinite strike Monday demanding respect for labour rights. Their main complaint is against the outsourcing of jobs, as 80 percent of the 100,000 workers in the mining industry -- the backbone of the economy are affected by the phenomenon of subcontracting and outsourcing.
Trade union leaders reported that between 35,000 and 40,000 workers from 33 of the 74 unions grouped in the national federation of miners and metalworkers (FNTMMSP) had joined the strike.
According to the government, the proportion of workers adhering to the strike represented a failure for the unions.
"Our members were waiting for the results of the negotiations, but there were delays," said the secretary-general of the FNTMMSP, Luis Castillos, who announced that striking miners would begin to march towards Lima on Wednesday, the day after International Labour Day.
Labour lawyer Jorge Toyama, a professor at the Catholic University of Peru, told IPS that "The state's policies must be reformulated. It is simply unacceptable for the authorities to be more worried about collecting taxes than about ensuring respect for basic rights."
The mining industry has become increasingly important to the economy, to the point that it now provides 60 percent of all income tax. Peru is the world's second-largest producer of silver, third-largest producer of copper and zinc, fourth-largest producer of lead, and fifth-largest producer of gold.
But at the same time, labour conditions have become more and more flexible. The FNTMMSP called the strike to demand the regularisation of the employment status of 80,000 workers who are not on the payroll of the companies they actually work for and thus do not enjoy the labour rights and benefits to which they are entitled.
"The miners' strike has been called because the authorities lack the political will to enforce labour rights," Castillo told IPS, explaining that no agreement was reached in the talks in which the government tried unsuccessfully to avert a strike.
Labour Minister Susana Pinilla blamed the failure of the six days of talks between the government and the miners' federation on the union's "obstinacy."
"With or without the federation, the abuses of subcontracting and outsourcing will be eradicated," said Pinilla, who added that a draft law would be introduced to that end.
She also pointed out that last Thursday, the government signed a new law that regulates the subcontracting of workers in different segments of the economy.
But in response to questions from IPS, Castillo said the law signed last week "is only 'cosmetic', because the subcontractors always end up breaking the country's laws due to lack of government oversight and enforcement."
The miners' strike was declared illegal by the government on the argument that the request for approval to hold a protest was not presented by the legally established deadline.
The national mining association, which represents the country's leading mining companies, stated that there is an "absolutely political intention" behind the strike.
The strike has slowed down production at a number of firms, including Yanacocha, which operates the largest gold mine in Latin America, and the British-Australian BHP Billinton Tintaya, the third-largest copper producer in Peru after Antamina and the U.S.-owned Southern Perú.
Southern Perú workers actually walked off the job ahead of time, going on strike on Saturday in Ilo, in the southern region of Moquegua. Adherence to the strike at the mine was nearly total.
The miners' federation reports that between 70,000 and 75,000 miners work for the big mining corporations, but through companies to which they outsource. By law, these firms must provide their employees with social security coverage and respect their labour rights. But the majority of subcontracted workers "have no right to paid vacations, to social security coverage or to join a union. That undermines their health," said Castillo.
In response, the head of the association of mining contractors in Peru, Carlos Bernal, told IPS that the firms he represents comply with the law.
Bernal did acknowledge, however, that the companies to which services are outsourced pay lower wages than the big mining corporations, and said that just as in any other part of the economy, some are merely front companies whose role is only to recruit personnel, as trade unionists complain.
These firms pay the subcontracted workers 30 soles (9.80 dollars) a day on average, compared to average wages of 70 soles (23 dollars) a day paid by the big mining corporations.
That represents a major savings for the mining companies, since 70 percent of the work force in the mining industry consists of subcontracted workers, said Bernal.
Some 400 of these outsourcing companies are registered with the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
Miners are demanding the total elimination of all subcontractors and outsourcing companies -- a demand that according to Toyama would violate the right to free enterprise, which is guaranteed by the constitution.
In his view, the best way to deal with the problem is for "the state to improve oversight and enforcement."
"Our labour legislation is relatively good. The big problem is the lack of control and enforcement, which is worse in the rural areas where the mines that commit abuses operate," he said.
Minister of Energy and Mines Juan Valdivia told IPS that the goal is to increase the number of labour inspectors from 100 to 250 by the end of the year. "The demands voiced by these workers are fair; there are companies that comply and others that don't, and the ones that do not respect labour rights should be punished," he said.
Both Valdivia and Bernal agreed that the laws should be modified so that subcontracted workers also receive a share of profits, which workers on the payroll of mining corporations already earn.
Both have talked to the national mining association, to try to make the initiative viable.
The government of Alan García submitted to parliament a draft law last year that proposes eliminating the ceilings on the profits that payroll workers draw, and to extend the profit-sharing arrangement to subcontracted workers.
Metals prices have soared in the past two years, by 111 percent in the case of copper, 42.5 percent for gold, 65.5 percent for silver, 150 percent for zinc, and 36.5 percent for lead, according to the Bloomberg financial news agency. (END/2007)