LIMA – Unions in the United States, Mexico and Canada offered support on Monday for Peruvian miners who have launched a strike to protest outsourcing and moves to slash pay and benefits.
North American unions condemn “the abuses committed against Peruvian workers by the government of Peru and the multinational companies,” Jorge Garcia-Orgales, a representative of the Canada branch of the United Steelworkers, told a press conference in Lima.
The session with the media took place at the headquarters of the FNTMMSP labor federation, representing some 70,000 Peruvian miners and metalworkers, which announced the strike earlier on Monday.
Garcia-Orgales read a statement of solidarity signed by USW International President Leo W. Gerard and by Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, chief of Mexico’s SNTMMSSRM miners and metalworkers union.
Besides expressing support for the strike, the North American labor leaders also criticized the Peruvian government’s posture toward protests in southern Peru against Southern Copper’s giant Tia Maria project, which many residents oppose on environmental grounds.
Three people have been killed and more than 200 others wounded in clashes between authorities and the anti-mining protesters.
“The mineral wealth of a country should be used for the benefit of the people, including the workers, and not to destroy the environment for the benefit of the corporations and politicians,” Gerard and Gomez Urrutia said in their statement.
Marcos Cercas, FNTMMSP’s secretary general, told Efe that all of the federation’s member-unions voted to strike in the face of the government’s failure to respond to repeated appeals and complaints.
The protest targets outsourcing regulations that began being phased-in during the 2006-2011 administration of President Alan Garcia, Cercas said.
“The law enables employers to hire workers who do not get the benefits of workers under collective agreements, and outsourcing has now extended to almost 70 percent of mining operations,” he said.
The FNTMMSP, Cercas said, has “submitted a series of documents to the Labor Ministry, Congress and the president, but we have been ignored since last year and that is why we agreed today to go on strike.”
Unions also oppose an executive order enabling companies to lay off up to 20 percent of their employees if they post losses, the FNTMMSP chief said.
He likewise raised concerns about a pending bill that would allow employers to pay 20 percent of the minimum wage in the form of bonuses, which would have the effect of lowering companies’ payroll-tax liability.
The job action was approved in principle last year, Cercas said, and it is not directly connected to the protests against the Tia Maria project.
“We have been wanting to solve this problem since last year,” he said. “We are not opposed to investment, but in the mining sector it should be accompanied with responsibility in environmental issues, and we have seen that Southern has not shown the best possible intentions in this matter.”