Locked Out Workers Launch International Campaign To Get Rio Tinto ‘Off The Olympic Podium’

The United Steelworkers (USW), is calling for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to drop multinational resource firm Rio Tinto as an official supplier of the 2012 London Games, because the company’s treatment of its own workers does not live up to the Olympic spirit.

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 USW says 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’.

The mining and metals giant is under 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 will be launched at a public event, jointly between the Steelworkers and a Workers Uniting, the global union formed by Unite in the UK and Ireland and the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada.

The Campaign was launched on Monday, April 16th at  Amnesty International UK’s Human Rights Action Centre, in London.

The campaign includes the creation of the Off The Podium web-site and email campaign 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 23th-25th 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.

There will be a series of press conferences and rallies with 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.

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 (at a smelter in a town called Alma) 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.

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