Without fair working conditions in mines, Mauritania's gold will not shine

Without fair working conditions in mines, Mauritania's gold will not shine

London- Tasiast Mauritanie, subsidiary of the Canadian company Kinross Gold, should respond to the demands of its employees, who have been on strike since May 5 to protest excessive hours and pay cuts, says ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies says.

After years of inequitable working conditions, hundreds of the company’s workers are protesting with a "a strike for dignity.” In response, employees charge, the company is intimidating employees and threatening them with pay reductions.

Domestic workers report a system in which employees from abroad are treated preferentially. For example, domestic staff report a lack of advancement, while expats from North America and Europe receive promotions and earn compensation that is often twice that of Mauritanians. In one incident, Mauritanian laborers were quarantined at their work site for more than a month due to spread of the coronavirus, yet received only a paltry payment of approximately $300.

Tasiast Mauritanie should allow the domestic workers to engage in collective bargaining, in compliance with labor legislation and the principles of good faith, says ImpACT International. Workers’ grievances should be heard without intimidation of those who protest, and two-way communication maintained.

The Tasiast gold mine is one of the largest in Africa, located in the northwestern region of Inchiri in Mauritania. Kinross Gold purchased the mine in 2010 and is operated by Tasiast Mauritanie. The company produces approximately 200,000 ounces of gold a year and employs about 1,200 Mauritanians.

The practices of Kinross Gold should reflect the principles social responsibility and respect for human rights stated in its mission

“The practices of Kinross Gold should reflect the principles social responsibility and respect for human rights stated in its mission,” says Maha Husseini, from ImpACT International, pointing out that the Canadian company has been accused of human rights violations in Brazil. Kinross was accused in 2018 of increasing its profits at the expense of vulnerable groups by expelling residents of the African Quilombo communities.

Workers in Mauritania also accuse the company of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to cut benefits, despite the fact that the company's production has surged, even while the price of gold increased more than 30%.

The workers are demanding that hazard pay and housing allowances be increased, and that abuse of work hours stop. They say they often are forced to work for 12 hours a day, with insufficient time off—causing exhaustion and stress. The laborers work approximately 360 hours a month but are paid for 170.

Rather than opening dialogue with the trade unions, company management has responded to the strike with threats. In a message to workers received on 10 May, the company warned that strikers, who make up about 39% of the workforce, will lose six days of their salaries due to the protest.

Tasiast Mauritanie tried to appease the workers by offering them 8,000 Mauritanian Ouguiya to split among themselves, then raised the amount to 12,000. However, the workers' delegates refused the offer.

"Despite numerous meetings with workers' delegates since the start of the strike, we still cannot understand the basis of this strike," said Tasiast Mauritanie management in a statement.

The Mauritanian government has asked workers to stop their strike. However, the government should not align with the company at the expense of workers’ interests, says ImpACT International. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Mauritania is a party, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including strikes.

Tasiast Mauritanie workers have gone on strike several times in the past to protest against similar unfair conditions, including in June 2016, when the protest lasted for three weeks.

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies calls on Tasiast Mauritanie and the Mauritanian government to respect workers’ right to strike, guarantee freedom of assembly and collective bargaining, and open good-faith dialogue with workers.

ImpACT points out that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 protects the right to strike, provided that it is exercised in accordance with the laws of the country concerned. In addition, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that, “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labor."

ImpACT also stresses the necessity of considering the health risks of miners, since studies have shown that artisanal gold mining is extremely dangerous due to the use of toxic mercury to separate the precious metal from ore. Mercury is a liquid metal that attacks the nervous system and can result in lifelong disability.


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