100,000 MINERS IN UNIONS

Mexico 2020 | ENERGY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Carlos Pavón Campos, Director General of National Union of Miners and Metallurgists (FRENTE), on misinformation, labor reform, and unionization.

What is your general perspective on the mining sector considering the amount of misinformation in the country?

While there are risks in mining, companies are investing in creating safe workplaces that are as sustainable as possible. Unfortunately, there is considerable misinformation about the sector, which has caused many people to see mining negatively. As leaders of a mining union, we support mining because we support about 17,000 colleagues who are miners. We support responsible mining that cares for the ecology and safety of workers. When the union was created, we accepted responsibility for the safety of workers because the life of our colleagues are at risk. Nine years ago, companies gave us the power to ban union members from working in unsafe places. Many mining companies are putting effort into this aspect. Companies now provide us with personal protective equipment. There are about 300,000 miners in the country, with about one-third unionized.

What will be the impact of the recently approved labor reform in Mexico on the union and its structure with companies?

We have collective agreements with Peñoles, Frisco, and Oro Gold, among others. Now, we are informing people about the current situation and possible changes. More than anything, we are guiding people to decide what should be done. It will not affect our relationship with companies because we have excellent existing relationships. The labor reform is opposed to freedom of association, which is upheld by ILO conventions that are considered constitutional. The new labor reform in Mexico allows the government to regulate an independent body, putting these bodies' autonomy at risk. It will use these situations to create conflicts in mines through the creation of more unions, which makes it difficult to conduct contract review negotiations. There is an established rule stating that the change of union is a syndical liberty. There is a secret vote, supervised by the authority, and people choose the union. This new law does not consider us miners; it was created without considering mining, as it is different from other industries. Union autonomy is being broken because the only ones responsible for creating and modifying the statutes are the workers themselves; now, the government will interfere more. It never consulted the workers about this reform. In fact, 80% of the workers in this country do not know it is labor reform.

What strategies is the union using to increase the visibility of the mining industry?

We have spoken to companies and had journalists visit mines to learn about our work. We are working on improving gender equality and making the job safer and more visible. In the union we represent, there are no differences between men and women, rights-wise. We want to take care of women so they are not harassed by workers and employees. We want security not only for the company but also for the people who work there. We all work out of necessity, not for fun. We have to give job stability to our colleagues. We seek safety, job stability, and benefits for workers. For example, in Fresnillo, the company Los Jales built a forest with artificial rivers; that is the only place where people can have fun. The company was not forced to create this. Responsible mining exists. People talk about pollution, but no miner gets sick from pollution. A few years ago, we had tuberculosis problems, but it was eradicated by using personal protective equipment. In some mines, we make relatives go down into the mine, so they know their relatives are working in safe places.

For a company that is looking to establish an agreement with a union, what added value do you offer compared to other unions in the country?

Our added value is job stability. We can solve everything by talking. In all our nine years, we have not had a conflict of unemployment or strikes because we have had the ability to solve problems by talking. I care about people and have to watch over my colleagues. There are many people who do not want to go on strike, and we as leaders cannot force them; it has to be their own free will and according to what they decide. Now that we have to register contracts, we have no problems because we have always negotiated contracts. A commission of the unit or the corresponding section comes, we accompany them through the revision, and a contract is not signed if the assembly does not accept it. We do not have problems because these are not new things for us.