Canadian Unions and Civil Society Organizations Support Bolivian Mineworkers Union Demands for Fair Treatment from Canadian Company

Source: MiningWatch Canada (Ottawa)

Canadian unions and civil society organizations sent a letter today to Canadian mining company Orvana Minerals, condemning the company’s actions in firing the entire workforce at its Don Mario Mine Complex in Bolivia in February of this year. The company is the sole owner of Empresa Minera Paititi (EMIPA), which operates the gold mine in eastern Bolivia that, up until February, supported 130 unionized mine workers and their families.

The letter condemns the company for apparently taking advantage of the Bolivian political crisis to fire its entire workforce, in the middle of a global pandemic. Organizations were troubled to hear that this campaign of intimidation and threats against the union began in October 2019 as the political crisis began to unfold in Bolivia, and just days after the company had ratified an agreement with the union guaranteeing “labour security”. 

The organizations request that the company immediately “commence dialogue in good faith with the Paititi union, in order to repair the harms that have been committed against the workforce at the Don Mario operations, and to afford them the rights guaranteed to them by Bolivian law and by the collective agreement that your company ratified in October 2019.” 

The organizations also demand the “immediate and just re-incorporation of the entire productive workforce at EMIPA.

The organizations signing the letter are: 

UNIONS

  • British Columbia General Employees Union (BCGEU)
  • Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 
  • CWA-Canada, The Media Union
  • National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)
  • United Steelworkers (USW) Canada

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS 

  • Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights (CLAIHR)
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams – Colombia
  • Comité por los derechos humanos en América Latina (CDHAL)
  • Common Frontiers, Canada 
  • Foundation for Development and Education
  • MiningWatch Canada 
  • Toronto Association for Peace & Solidarity 

The original letter sent to the company is attached, in English and Spanish.

For more information, or to set up interviews with the unions or civil society organizations who signed on or to speak directly to the Paititi Mineworkers unions, contact:

  • Kirsten Francescone, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada. kirsten@miningwatch.ca , +1 (437) 345-9881

BACKGROUND 

According to the union. Orvana Minerals has engaged in a systematic violation of basic workers’ rights and has undertaken what would appear to be a blatant attempt to eliminate the unionized workforce.

  • The company, Orvana Minerals, is the 100% owner operator of the Don Mario gold mine in Bolivia, through its subsidiary EMIPA. Orvana is a Canadian company, headquartered in Toronto and trading stock on the TSX (ORV). 
  • 2017: The company underwent a management change in Bolivia, and with it a significant change in management practices at the mine. The company ceased giving annual salary increases to the productive workforce (the miners), while hiring more administrative and technical staff and significantly increasing their wages. 
  • From 2017 to 2019, the union used work stoppages to pressure the company into improving the terms of their collective agreement including nominal wage increases and increased spending in mine exploration and development. In both 2017 and 2018, failures to reach an agreement went to the Ministry of Labour, and both times the union was forced to concede to the company’s terms.
  • In October 2019, in the middle of the unfolding Bolivian political crisis, the ministry of labour mediated an arbitration process between the union and the employer, following months of failed attempts to re-negotiate the collective agreement. The main themes of the failed negotiations were a wage increase for the productive workforce and a commitment to long-term labour stability, as well as increases to exploration and mine development. 
  • On October 14th, the company signed an agreement with the union guaranteeing labour stability and committing to developing new work areas for a long-term production plan. 
  • October 16th, and without any warning, the first round of workers began receiving notices of their termination, despite the signing of the agreement merely two days earlier. The union resists these attempted dismissals and fights to refuse the threats. 
  • November 2020: The political crisis worsened, and the transition government took power. 
  • February 2020: The company reported in its Management Discussion and Analysis for the 3 months ending December 2019, “At EMIPA, in the first quarter of fiscal 2020 the Company temporarily suspended mining operations at Las Tojas, started the workforce restructuring process and implemented the care and maintenance program…The Company anticipates that, subject to the favourable completion of technical, economic and funding analysis, the sulphidization circuit and ancillary facilities will be in full production by FY2021 to process the oxides stockpile. During the interim period, contractors will be developing the Oxide Stockpile Project at site, while undertaking care and maintenance of existing facilities.”
  • On February 29, 2020, the company posted paper notes in the cafeteria at the mine, failing to recognize the union leadership, notifying the workforce of their immediate termination and to collect their notices that same day and vacate the premises. The justification was that the mine was no longer economically viable. 
  • Following this egregious assault on the workforce, the union and its members decided to remain in place at the mine site, stating that they will not leave until their positions are reinstated. 
  • March 9, 2020: At the request of the union, the Bolivian Ministry of Labour sent inspectors to the mine site and concluded that the workforce had been presented with the documentation for dismissal without respecting “union immunity, parental rights, or demonstrating a justified cause for their dismissal as defined by the General Labour Law.”
  • March 2020: The company filed a constitutional protection order against the union’s occupation of the mine. 
  • March 2020: The workforce was ordered to vacate the premises of the mine, and were forced to withdraw from the area. 
  • March 2020: The union and workforce set up a tent vigil in the nearby city of Santa Cruz to demand their reinstatement. 
  • March 2020 – October 2020: The union presented legal complaints against the company for breach of contract and failing to comply with Bolivian labour law to demand the workers’ reinstatement. They sent multiple communiqués to the company in Canada requesting dialogue, but did not receive any response.
  • October 5, 2020: The STMMP sent a commission of 35 workers and delegates to La Paz to pressure the Ministry of Labour to commence the process of re-incorporation. They set up a vigil in front of the offices demanding dialogue. The ongoing political instability in the country continued to thwart any meaningful progress.

Letter to Orvana Minerals ENG307.65 KB PDF

Carta a Orvana Minerals ESP305.48 KB PDF

SOURCE:

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