The energy transition is having a major impact on Europe and worldwide. But the countries producing the minerals so necessary for our energy supply now and in the future, are being negatively affected.
The decarbonisation process must start taking the people working to mine the coal and the metals into consideration. The threats they are encountering are too often overlooked.
Learn quickly about what’s happening and how CNV Internationaal is committed to creating a just transition, where workers are taken into account in our position paper.
For a deep dive, discover on the issues at stake on this long read page. For quick access use the yellow index at the right side of this page.
The first complaint to the EU to protect and defend miners’ rights
For the first time ever, in a quest to make precarious working conditions in the mines in Colombia and Peru visible, trade union organisations, together with CNV Internationaal, have filed a complaint with the EU's complaint mechanism (called Single Entry Point) . These mines produce the coal and metals that play such a crucial role in the European Union’s energy supply.
New participatory monitoring research on OHS in mining
The research has shed light on the types of risks which are affecting the miners the most
Research on mining supply chain risks
Profundo researchers have analysed the situation of workers in the mining supply chain.
Main conclusions are that:
- the impact of coal mining on local employment and economy in Colombia requires a responsible transition.
Learn more on Colombian Coal Trade and financial relationships and the CSR approach of mining companies
- the current lack of transparency in the metal chain makes it impossible for companies and governments to guarantee decent work for the workers who extract the metals from the ground.
CNV Internationaal has formulated a series of recommendations and key take aways in order:
- to prepare plans for the transition of the coal mining sector in Colombia
- to increase transparency in the metal chain
in collaboration with companies - buyers, investors, traders and mining companies - governments and unions .
What’s happening in coal mining
At the beginning of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic led to mass dismissals at the Glencore owned Prodeco mine in northern Colombia.
This was due to Glencore's sudden decision to return mining titles.
Struggle for decent compensation and social plans
Trade unions have struggled to defend the interests of the workers and negotiate towards decent compensation and social plans.
Nevertheless mine multi-national Glencore continues to refuse to participate in social dialogue processes. Moreover untill recently, Colombia's previous government neglected to play a proactive role.
Swiss multi-national Glencore owns two major mines which generate 83% of the region’s GDP.
- 40% of the GDP comes from the Prodeco mine in the Cesar Department
43% of the GDP comes from Carbones del Cerrejón in the Department of La Guajira
Loss of livelihood
Mining unions have been alarmed by the company’s sudden withdrawal from Colombia, as Glencore has done so without setting up any type of social plan for the transition. Without fair agreements for the workers and communities, thousands of families are going to suffer.
The consequences include the complete loss of livelihood in a region economically dependent on mining.
Further, many mineworkers suffer serious health problems due to the extractive work. These health problems will continue to plague them for the rest of their lives. They and their families must have the assurance that their needs will be met, both health wise and economically. Now and in the future!
For decades, the region’s economy has depended entirely on mining. Mining has generated 160,000 jobs in Colombia.
Although the coal mines will remain in the near future, trade unions are calling for just transition processes to be initiated now!
The Workers Collective for a Just Transition
Trade union organisations in the mining region have realised they need to join together in order to play a stronger role in this transition. With the support of CNV Internationaal, they have established a coordination network: The Workers Collective for a Just Transition in Mining. This collective represents the workers in social dialogue and develops proposals for much needed social plans.
Their main concerns are severance pay plans and covering the costs of health problems. The Workers’ Collective, together with the stakeholders in the mining value chain, currently work to:
- Analyse and discuss the effects of the transition
- Create proposals for if/when the mines close, including the transfer of mining titles and restitutions, based on experience of other countries.
- Create social dialogue on labour issues in the mining sector to avoid more social problems due to the mining operations leaving the area.
- Have relevant parties establish a joint diagnosis of the possible impacts on El Cesar, La Guajira, and Magdalena, in terms of employability and social protection.
- Draft policy for a just energy transition, sustained by strategic plans in favour of workers in the mining corridor of Northern Colombia (the departments El Cesar, La Guajira and Magdalena).
Learn more about the Workers' Colletive's proposals in this newly published paper:
The Labour Observatory
On 7 October 2021, the Workers Collective, supported by CNV Internationaal, launched a Labour Observatory for a Just Transition in Mining to
analyse current cases, share good practices, and to develop proposals.
The Collective aims to use this Observatory to share knowledge, cases, and proposals for a just transition towards a low-carbon economy, where all actors are taken into account.
The Observatory provides input for strategies to re-develop the region, to stimulate new industry, such as sustainable energy, which will provide work and a decent livelihood for the miners and all who are dependent on the industry.
Miners already have more than enough reason to unionise. In general, they deal with horrendous working conditions on a daily basis.
In both the coal and the metals mining sectors, miners are constantly exposed to dust and gases.
Their companies often do not provide them with the security and protection required by law. This makes them extremely vulnerable to silicosis, an irreversible respiratory disease.
The obvious breaches in labour conditions for outsourced or subcontracted workers compared to directly hired workers is another (related) issue.
Less than a third of the workers are directly employed, making outsourcing the norm rather than the exception.
Workers continue to be subcontracted in the sector. Despite the fact that they workers perform similar duties for many years, they do not progress to gain secure, direct contracts. Learn more in this animated video made by our colleagues from Latin America.
The difference is significant, both in terms of job stability and wages:
- Outsourced workers work under short-term contracts ranging from 3-6 months to 1 year.
- Due to their many separate contracts, their labour rights are always at risk, especially when it comes to non- payment of overtime and days off.
- They earn 30% less and have to work extreme hours to earn enough to meet decent living conditions.
- They almost never have the freedom to unionise or to negotiate with the mining companies for anything better.
In 2021, companies went from 4 to 3 shifts per month, meaning workers went from 15 to 21 days of work per month.
They work 12 hours a day for 7 days in a row, and then get 3 days of rest. The same amount of work now has to be done by 25% fewer workers. 1 in 4 miners became unemployed.
Workers call it the "shift of death" ("El turno de la muerte"] as the longer working shifts lead to exhaustion of the mineworkers, and a growing risk of fatal accidents during the latest shifts.
What’s Happening in Metals Mining
The global energy transition has drastically increased the demand for minerals like silver, zinc, copper, and cobalt. We now need approximately 5 times more than in the past as these precious metals are indispensable for electronics, from solar panels to tablets, and from heat pumps to cellphones.
Seeing this trend, Peru began to focus its economy on the metals sector in the 1990s. They have become one of the main mining countries for the world. Industry profits have been huge, partly due to the large amount of exploitable natural resources, but also because their labour force has been cheap compared to most of the rest of the world.
Natural Resources and a Cheap Labour Force
Since 2015, Peru has had an outsourcing law to reduce costs and make the Peruvian industry even more competitive internationally. Nowadays, more than 70% of the mines in the metallurgical sector in Peru employ workers without direct contracts.
Companies are only legally responsible for complying with the labour guarantees for mine workers who have direct contracts. This means outsourced workers “don’t count” when it comes to company responsibility.
Glencore: Creating an illusion of compliance
As for Glencore, the company creates an illusion of compliance. The companies website promises compliance with the ILO’s International Conventions of Human Rights and the Fundamental Declaration of Labour Principles and Rights at Work. Glencore also says that they have established a protocol to guarantee labour rights for the outsourced workers of their suppliers.
However, in practice, our experience with mineworkers and their unions is that Glencore avoids responsibility for the matter by passing these responsibilities for compliance over onto the sub-contracting companies. The sub-contractors are therefore left to ensure correct working conditions and labour rights for the outsourced workers.
Study outsourcing Glencore
Violations of labour rights and outsourcing at mining sites
In 2020, CNV Internationaal conducted an indept investigation into the situation of Glencore’s outsourced workers in Peru. It focused on two mining sites: Andaychagua (Yauli, Junín) and Antapaccay (Espinar, Cusco). The investigation indicates several alarming issues,
- the absence of long-term contracts,
- the non-payment of overtime, and
- the precarious health and safety conditions workers are subjected to.
> Summary of the study on violations of labour and union rights of outsourced workers (DOWNLOAD PDF)
Videos and stories
To give you an understanding of the situation of outsourced miners watch their stories.
'The hidden face of mining'
OECD-webinar Responsible Minerals
In 2021, during the prestigious OECD Forum on Responsible Minerals, a case study was presented with clear recommendations and key takeways on how to reduce the risks of outsourcing for stakeholders, metal buyers, traders, governments, investors, and also the mining companies themselves.
Understand and identify hidden risk in mining supply chains
IRBC Webinar - scenarios
In 2022, Members of the Dutch IRBC Covenant for the Metals Sector, which CNV Internationaal is a member of, organised a webinar with experts from Europe and Latin America, to discuss various scenarios for the energy transition. The webinar also showed and discussed the transition’s impact on workers and their local communities. >> Webinar
Recommandations on how to reduce risks
"In cooperation with various actors, we are targeting all parts of the supply chain. Only through mutual cooperation and joint action can the situation truly change," explains Maurice van Beers of CNV Internationaal.
In the Netherlands, investors in the mining industry and metals end-user companies are increasingly committed to improving corporate social responsibility in regard to their investment policies and purchasing practices.
We have formulated a number of recommendations for the different parties in the value chain. We are convinced that the solution ultimately lies in a joint approach, where each party takes responsibility for their own practices.
Learn more and join our call to action!
To join our call to action, you can reach us at: email@example.com