SYDNEY/TORONTO - Three of Australia's biggest blue-collar unions announced today that they will back an international campaign to remove mining giant Rio Tinto as an Olympic supplier for this summer's London Games.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Australian Workers Union together represent over 400,000 blue-collar workers in Australia.
"If there was a gold medal for abuse of human rights, work rights and the environment, it would go to Rio Tinto," said CFMEU spokesman Tony Maher. "We are a mining country with a booming resources economy. Rio Tinto is a major player in Australia and we all have an interest in holding Rio Tinto to account for its corporate behaviour."
Rio Tinto is providing 99 per cent of the gold and other metals that are being cast into medals for victorious Olympic athletes. The Canadian United Steelworkers union (USW) launched the campaign in London on Monday (April 16) calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reject Rio Tinto as a supplier and to recast the medals
The unions contend that Rio Tinto's treatment of its own workers does not live up to the Olympic spirit.
Recently, the company announced plans at a profitable smelter in Quebec 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.
Rio Tinto has a controversial track record in labour relations and environmental protection in Australia and other countries.
"At those low wage levels, a worker in Quebec cannot support a family," said Steelworkers (Quebec) spokesperson Real Valiquette, who was in Sydney to mobilize support for the campaign. "Locking out its workers in Quebec is a violation of Rio Tinto's obligations to fair play under the Olympic Charter," he said.
All Australians should support the campaign to get Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium."
Further signs of momentum against Rio Tinto's Olympic involvement emerged Tuesday in the UK, where 15 Members of Parliament (MPs) sponsored a House of Commons motion expressing concern that 'successful Olympians will be presented with medals produced by multi-national company Rio Tinto who have locked out their entire workforce in Alma, Quebec without any serious consultation.'
"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 has no place alongside the world's greatest athletes - it's time to get Rio Tinto off the Olympic podium."