Mauritania: Solidarity with Workers on Strike at Tasiast Gold Mine

The ITUC has expressed its full support for workers employed by Tasiast Mauritania (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kinross Canada), who have been on strike since 8 August, as well as its solidarity with its Mauritanian affiliate, the CGTM, which is coordinating the fight on the ground.

The Tasiast gold mine, approximately 300 kilometres north of the capital Nouakchott, is the third largest in the world, produces 200,000 ounces of gold per year, and declared a profit of US$ 153.8 million in 2012.

Over 90% of the approximately 1400 direct employees of Tasiast Mauritania are taking industrial action in protest at their employers’ failure to respect the commitments made in 2011 with regards to pay, medical cover, and more decent treatment of mining staff. The workers are also protesting against various positions taken by the management, such as moves to cut bonus pay or the refusal to transfer seriously ill employees to the capital Nouakchott.

Responding to the employer’s failure to honour its commitments, the workers’ representatives presented a list of demands and a strike notice on 25 July.

On the eve of the planned strike, the workers’ representatives, in a spirit of conciliation, announced that industrial action would be postponed for three months, subject to the status quo being maintained. The management, however, decided to impose a new method of calculating bonus pay, without discussion, as well as attempting to force the workers to relinquish hard earned rights and to pledge that no strike notice would be filed in the future. Faced with this response slamming the door on any serious negotiations, the workers’ representatives had no choice but to go ahead with the strike action.

The ITUC has condemned Tasiast’s conduct, which contravenes the principles of collective bargaining, good faith and the labour legislation, and has urged the company to listen to the workers’ legitimate grievances, to initiate genuine dialogue and to end all acts of intimidation against the striking workers.

The ITUC has also condemned Kinross Tasiast management’s violation of the right to strike, by using employees from subcontractors working for Kinross to replace the striking workers.

The ITUC has also expressed concern at reports from workers at the site that an employee of the subcontractor Canary Log was allegedly found dead under obscure circumstances after being sent to work for Kinross Tasiast. The Confederation has requested urgent clarification regarding the fate of this worker.

The ITUC fully supports the CGTM, which is providing coordination for the workers’ representatives on the ground as well for the other trade union organisations involved, and has expressed its total solidarity with this trade union action to defend the workers’ legitimate demands.

Company’s response to the article:

Kinross Gold Corporation
25 York Street, 17th Floor
Toronto, ON Canada M5J 2V5

August 28, 2013

To the International Trade Union Confederation:

I am writing regarding an item posted on the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) website on August 16, 2013 entitled “Mauritania: Solidarity with Workers on Strike at Tasiast Gold Mine.”

Kinross takes pride in its reputation as a responsible global operator and a fair employer. That reputation has been unjustifiably damaged by misleading statements and factual errors in the ITUC posting which misrepresent Kinross to our employees, the media, our stakeholders in the corporate responsibility sector, and the general public. We therefore request that this item be removed from your website, or a complete correction made regarding the inaccurate statements it contains, which are discussed in detail below.

We fully appreciate that the ITUC is an advocacy group and not a news organization. Nevertheless, we are frankly disappointed that an international organization with the ITUC’s profile and influence would not have undertaken some basic fact-checking before posting an item containing such damaging allegations. This might have included (for instance) contacting Kinross to provide a fair opportunity to respond to, or verify, the information reported.

Note that the strike at Tasiast was settled on August 19. At that time, Kinross Tasiast and its local union issued a joint statement announcing that an agreement had been reached. In total, the strike lasted 12 days. Please see the attached joint communique to employees (versions are in Arabic, French and English).

Contrary to the ITUC allegations of Kinross “slamming the door with respect to serious negotiations”, the Company was engaged in intensive negotiations with the union to reach an agreement right up to (and beyond) the deadline for the strike notice. Once the strike was declared, the Company worked diligently – principally through third-party intermediaries – to bring the union back to the table to achieve the eventual resolution.

Listed below are additional incorrect or misleading statements from the ITUC posting, along with the factual corrections or necessary contextual information:

1. Third paragraph, first sentence: "failure to respect the commitments made in 2011 with regards to pay, medical cover, and more decent treatment of mining staff.”

Tasiast management and union delegates signed the first Collective Labor Agreement (CLA) at Tasiast in December 2012. This master agreement covers all aspects of employment, and incorporates all commitments made previously between management and union delegates, including any made in 2011. The Company has met all commitments agreed to in the CLA, including those with respect to pay, medical coverage, and working conditions.

The monetary commitments agreed to in the CLA include bonus payments to employees. Unfortunately, the calculation method used for bonus payments has been erroneous since February 2011. This has resulted in higher payments to employees, but has also been non-compliant with Mauritanian law. While the Company decided not to claw back overpayments, going forward it is applying the proper method for bonus calculations as specified under Mauritanian law. The Company informed the union delegates of the erroneous calculation of bonus payments and outlined a plan to transition from the erroneous amount to the legally compliant amount. The Company paid the full (erroneous) amount of the bonus during the first quarter, and split the difference between the erroneous amount and the legally correct amount during the second quarter. This change in bonus payment calculation was the key issue in the recent strike.

It is important to note that Tasiast bonus payments, as well as general work conditions, consistently exceed mining industry standards in Mauritania.

2. Third paragraph, last sentence: "…refusal to transfer seriously ill employees to Nouakchott."

The accusation that the Company has refused to transfer seriously ill employees to Nouakchott is simply not true, and is highly damaging. The facts demonstrate that in fact Kinross takes extensive measures to guard the health and safety of its employees. While this issue was raised by Union delegates at Tasiast as an area of concern, it was resolved and taken off the table during negotiations.

The Company has built a medical health clinic at the Tasiast mine site which is managed and administered by International SOS – a leading provider of medical and travel security services. Our Tasiast clinic provides some of the best trauma and acute illness medical care in the country - to our employees at site, and also to members of the surrounding communities. In terms of emergency response, we have equipped an emergency response team capable of responding to fire, vehicle extraction and high angle rescue emergencies.

Tasiast makes arrangements to transfer all patients that have conditions that cannot be treated at the Tasiast clinic to an appropriate medical facility. From February to July 2013, transfers of 38 personnel were arranged so they could receive further treatment and care in Nouakchott. Transfers are arranged on the advice of the attending physicians, who are not only highly qualified, but also experienced in emergencies, general surgery, and infectious and tropical diseases.

In addition, not only does the Company transfer those in need of further treatment to Nouakchott, it has also, in the past, transferred a seriously ill sub-contractor first to Nouakchott and then, internationally, to Las Palmas, Spain. Dah Mohamed Lemine Adderahim was transferred from Tasiast to receive further treatment in the country capital. His health was deteriorating and he was in a sub-critical condition when the Company flew him to Las Palmas, effectively saving his life. Although the details of his medical condition cannot be discussed without breaching patient confidentiality, his condition was due to a chronic disease and was not work related. Mr. Lemine is receiving further treatment and his health is improving daily.

To that end, his next of kin have written to the Company and thanked them for going beyond the call of duty. Please see attached file “Lettre de remerciement et de reconnaissance”. They have also published the letter and are participating in a radio program (of their own volition and under no instruction from the Company) to thank the Company regarding this matter.

3. Fifth paragraph, second sentence: "…imposed new method of calculating bonus pay without discussion…"

This statement is entirely incorrect. As described above, the calculation method for the bonus has been erroneous since February 2011, resulting in non-compliance with Mauritanian law, and materially higher payments to employees. However, that error was only discovered around April 15, 2013. After a detailed review with the Chief Accountant at site, the issue was first communicated by the Tasiast General Manager to the union delegates during the week of April 22, 2013.

At no point did the Company decide to impose a new method of calculation on employees without discussion. The Company made an active decision not to claw back over-payments, and in the last two quarters, paid its employees a discretionary amount to compensate for a bonus reduction.

The miscalculation issue was again communicated to delegates on two different occasions - in monthly meetings between the Tasiast unions and management, in May and June 2013. Subsequent to these meetings, the Regional Finance Director and site General Manager presented the correct bonus calculation for the second quarter to the Union delegates on July 23 and 24, 2013. The meetings, held over the course of these two days, explained the calculation method in detail, including nine hours spent on the calculation itself.

The Company has made significant efforts to inform and educate Union delegates on the correct method of bonus calculation, compliant with the rules and regulations set down by the Mauritanian tax authorities. The Company has also sought third-party opinion from a noted accountancy firm in Mauritania (BDS) to ensure that the calculation method is fully compliant with national legislation.

Please see attached file with the Legal Opinion from BDS (“Legal opinion re bonus payment”).

4. Fifth paragraph, second sentence: "…attempting to force workers to relinquish hard earned rights and to pledge that no strike notice would be filed in the future."

The Company firmly believes in the individual worker’s right to strike, subject to exercising such rights as per the provisions set forth in applicable laws. No action would ever be carried out against an employee on the grounds of exercising his or her legal rights. This is a statement that has been actively communicated to all Tasiast employees in an internal communique. Please see paragraph three of the attached document “Comm6” (note that the date in this communique August 6 is incorrect, as the document was in fact distributed on August 17, 2013).

The Company believes the claim is made in reference to a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) communicated to the Tasiast union delegates via the Mauritanian Labor Inspector, involved in facilitating a strike settlement (August 13). The MOU was requested in response to a previous proposal brought to the Company by the Labor Inspector. The MOU was a serious attempt to settle the issue of the bonus calculation method, just prior to the delegates calling a strike. In this document, the Company laid out the concessions it was prepared to make, as well as its expectations of delegates and workforce upon a full and final settlement of the issues. This included the assurance from the delegates that they would refrain from submitting a strike notice on an already-settled issue.

The aforementioned clause in no way precludes the union ability to file a strike notice or the employee’s right to strike on any issue other than the ones settled.

5. Seventh paragraph: "…violation of the right to strike, by using employees from subcontractors working for Kinross to replace the striking workers."

The Company has not moved to replace employees with any other workers.

Of all the legally working personnel on site, a good faith mistake was made involving a single individual during the volatile and tense period that a strike situation imposes. This single subcontractor employee was asked to feed a crusher operated by the subcontracting company. In addition, he was also asked to feed a crusher operated by Tasiast, and therefore was fulfilling duties that would have normally been carried out by a striking employee. This was the only such incident, and a one-off situation, which was corrected as soon as the delegates raised the issue.

The instance was fully investigated by the presiding Labor Inspector, who carried out a full site inspection. The Labor Inspector confirmed that no other workers were filling any roles or responsibilities of striking employees.

6. Eighth paragraph: "…reports from workers at the site that an employee of the subcontractor Canary Log was allegedly found dead under obscure circumstances after being sent to work for Kinross Tasiast."

The statement implies that the unfortunate death of the contract employee is somehow linked to his work at Tasiast. This is a very serious allegation, which should not have been repeated in a posting like this in the absence of any factual corroboration.

The facts relate to the death of an employee working for SNTS, a subcontractor of Cohispama. In the early hours of August 12, the individual, who was off shift, took his vehicle to the Sondage River for a car wash. He was found in a collapsed state and transported to the Tasiast clinic, whereupon he was pronounced dead by the presiding physician. His body showed no signs of trauma and the Doctor’s immediate assessment indicated a cardio-vascular linked cause of death.

As with such cases, the body was taken by the Gendarmerie to ascertain cause of death. The body was transported to Nouakchott for further examination. As Mauritania is an Islamic country, autopsies are unusual. However, a doctor in Nouakchott is providing a report to the Gendarmerie. The Chief of Gendarmerie (Benichab) will provide the investigation report to the prosecutor, and he will provide Kinross with a copy of this report when it is completed.

A rumour circulated that the cause of death may be electrical shock. However, an inspection of the location by Tasiast’s electrical supervisor the morning after the incident has indicated there was no possibility of electrocution from where the contract employee was located or from what he was doing.

In recognition of the misleading nature of these allegations – and the resulting unwarranted reputational damage to Kinross — we request that you remove this posting from your website. We would be happy to discuss these points in more detail if you have any questions.


Steve Mitchell

Vice-President, Corporate Communications

Kinross Gold Corporation