The Head of the BHR Unit and Deputy Director at HRCSL, Abdulai Yolla Bangura indicated that reports reaching the) Unit of the Commission indicated that workers of the Sierra Min Bauxite Company were facing challenges from the senior management of their company preventing them from joining a trade union of their choice. He further indicated that the company is imposing on them another union called United Mines Workers’ Union (UMWU) as against the Union of Railway Plantation Minerals Industry and Construction Employees (URPMICE) preferred by majority of the workers.
“From 2016 to present, up to 451 workers have registered with URPMICE as their preferred trade union. The company is not creating any opportunity for alternative unions in their establishment. Such action clearly breach the provisions of Section (26) (1) of the 1991 Constitution, other related labour laws and the 2018 National Corporate Governance Code of Sierra Leone, the ILO Conventions 087, 098 and 154 which talk about Freedom of Association and Protection of Right to Organize and Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining for employees, Principle 12 of the UNGPs as well as provisions in other relevant international, regional and domestic labour laws”. Abdulai Yolla Bangura disclosed.
On the part of the S. L. Mining Company in Lunsar, Abdulai Yolla Bangura continued that the Commission noted the outstanding human rights challenges suffered by communities around the mines site which exposed them to flooding of their farmlands amounting to over 350 hectares of swamplands covered in the Manonko community and its environs. This problem, he continued started since the commencement of mining operations close to their communities in 2009, first by the London Mining Company and later Timis Corporation.
According to him, this situation persists in these communities and thus prevents them from carrying out livelihood activities like farming. “Since then, there has been little or no action taken by the relevant authorities (from the company or government MDAs) to address the situation. Now that a new mining company has emerged (i.e. S. L. Mining Company), the Commission is therefore required to intervene as early as possible by engaging the senior management of the company and other relevant state authorities to ensure that human rights due diligence is adopted in their operations as stated in the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) and other relevant international, regional and domestic standards” He said.
The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) was established by an Act of Parliament Act No 9, 2004 with the mandate to protect and promote human rights across the country. Section 7(2) (f) of the Act provides that: “Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), it shall be the function of the Commission to-…monitor and document violations of human rights in Sierra Leone…”.
The Oversight Commissioner for the Directorate of Monitoring and Research at the HRCSL, Dr. Gassan Abess stated that the visit will create an opportunity for the HRCSL to engage with state, local and company authorities on their human rights obligations and responsibilities as required by the UNGPs and other relevant international, regional and domestic legal provisions.
He also said the team will also use the opportunity to engage with the Sierra Leone Police as state security on their role in providing security to businesses and communities as required by the UNGPs, UN Guidelines on Basic Security and Proportionate Use of Force. This monitoring is also meant to diffuse tension that is brewing at the Sierra Min Bauxite Company between the workers and their employer for an amicable resolution of the workers’ concerns.
It could also be recalled that similar situation aroused in 2012 with the then African Minerals Limited (AML) company where workers engaged in protest action for labour related rights. The failure of AML and its subsidiary companies to urgently address the concerns of the workers led to violent protest and with the police brutal intervention to coil down the protesters resulted in damages to property, wounding and loss of life.