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Erdenes TT worker sets fire to himself in a press conference protest

By Ch.KHALIUN

Last Friday, Mongolians witnessed an attempted immolation during a press conference, where Head of the Solidarity Trade Union of Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (Erdenes TT) S.Erdene set himself on fire to protest the decision of the company’s authorities to transfer over 200 workers to a Chinese company.
S.Erdene was able to walk away from the incident, but he suffered burns on his face, legs, arms, and body. The incident was the lead story for local television stations and a hot topic on social media.
In October, Erdenes TT leadership decided to transfer 203 of its workers from the East Tsankhi mine to TTJV Co., a Chinese company headquartered in Singapore. The Trade Union asked Erdenes TT to explain the reason for transferring the workers and to see the labor relations settlement of the companies’ contract.
Prior to last Friday’s press conference, the trade union members, led by S.Erdene, said they had taken several measures regarding the worker transfers. They protested at the company’s offices and organized a press conference to inform the public of the decision and their position held on it.
“We opposed Erdenes TT’s decision and protested for five days, asking the company for clarification to resolve the issue at the company level, but now we are reporting it to the public to deliver correct information,” employee representatives said at a press conference held on October 21.
Following the announcements from the trade union members, one week later Erdenes TT authorities explained that many companies downsize their workforce in times of economic recession, and added that the company did not fire their staff, but transferred them to another company without any changes to their salaries or working conditions. They said that most of employees accepted the company’s decision, and that only a few workers opposed the decision.
However, during the press conference held last Friday, S.Erdene said, “The board of Erdenes TT accepted the decision of the company’s leadership for their own interests, seriously violating the interests of the company’s workers. They didn’t ask for our opinion even once.”
S.Erdene said that the agreement between Erdenes TT and TTJV robs Mongolians of jobs and that the agreement was written in English. He added that it can seriously impact the nation’s security, and said that the decision on worker transfers was the government’s intention of turning Erdenes TT to just a company on a paper.
TTJV Co. is a company registered in Mongolia, but S.Erdene claims that the agreement with Erdenes TT written in English is a crime against the state intended to confuse provisions of the agreement. He cited that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not issue any guarantee for the agreement, and the Standing Committee on Petitions did not issue an evaluation.
Acting CEO of Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi B.Batbileg said, that following a directive from the Economic Standing Committee, the company’s board made the decision on worker transfers considering the interests of the country, company, workers, and its shareholders. However, the company’s trade union members opposed the announcement and commented, “We did not reach any consensus. We have been working for the company for 20 to 30 years. We have experience. The Chinese company that we are going to be transferred to will evaluate us again. They may say that we do not pass their exams and fire us. We don’t have a guarantee, it is like our company is engaging in human trafficking abroad.”
At the press conference S.Erdene also stated, “The government supported B.Batbileg, acting CEO of the company, and Head of the Board G.Ganbold for candidacy in the 2016 Parliamentary election. They talk about the issue openly, and they steal from the company’s unmonitored funds by abandoning the company and transferring its employees to a Chinese company.” S.Erdene said that as of the head of the Solidarity Trade Union, he would continue to fight until the end.
“Our company leadership arbitrarily established the agreement on worker transfers, providing the public with incorrect information. They’re downsizing over 200 workers under the pretense of a transfer. I am sorry on behalf of the 200 employees that are being fired and show my sorrow by bearing responsibility with my own flesh,” said S.Erdene before he poured fuel on himself and set himself on fire in a room filled with reporters.
Another trade union member that was present at the last Friday’s press conference said, “We didn’t know that S.Erdene was planning to burn himself and carried fuel. He did pour the fuel on himself and set it on fire in a second. I am really sorry about it.”
After the press conferece, Erdenes TT’s Head of Communications and Community Public Relations Department P.Gereltsansar reported on the company’s position.
P.Gereltsansar said, “S.Erdene claimed and complained that Erdenes TT was not supporting them, and due to current difficulties, worker’s families live in hunger. He said that he was burning himself for his children, in front of Mongolians.”
He stated that Erdenes TT is working in accordance with Mongolian laws and regulations. He said that if S.Erdene believed that the company was not operating lawfully, he should not have set fire to himself and protected his rights within the framework of the law.
“If he believes that his rights are being violated, then he can appeal to the court and fully resolve his issue. He is still able to appeal to the court according to the Civil Law and Law on Labor. However, he did not use his legal options, and we are sorry that he frightened the public by harming himself,” added Gereltsansar.
He added that relevant legal organizations will reveal the truth, and refused to respond to journalists on matters related to Erdenes TT’s agreement with TTJV Co.
Member of the Solidarity Trade Union and Shift Manager at Erdenes TT B.Tumendelger said that the agreement established between Erdenes and TTJV Co. contains two provisions that can infringe on the interests of workers, including provision No.18 on human resources policy and provison No.19 on contracted companies that will carry out activities.
“We need to explain why S.Erdene decided to take such measures. This was not a matter that was just touched upon today. The company’s trade union appealed to organizations at all levels. We addressed the issue with Prime Minister Ch.Saikhanbileg, President Ts.Elbegdorj, Head of the Cabinet Secretariat S.Bayartsogt, and other organizations, but we did not receive any respone, which led our trade union head to take such actions,” Tumendelger continued. He also reported that starting from November 13, at 4:00 p.m., workers’ activities at the mine were fully stopped.
Erdenes TT leadership said that previously the company released a guarantee to not downsize a single worker for a year, but following their staff’s requests, they extended the period for 33 months, stating that during this period there would not be any firing or transfers.
On the day of the union’s press conference, Erdenes TT authorities announced that they would hold a press conference, but it was later cancelled. They were called on to meet with the PM and other state officials. Following their meeting with the PM, Minister of Mining and Advisor to the PM Ts.Munkhtur made a public statement concerning the dispute between Erdenes TT and its workers.
Minister R.Jigjid said, “Today we witnessed an unfortunate case. An Erdenes TT’s worker tried to set himself on fire, opposing the structural changes to the company. The PM immediately gathered relevant officials and gave several instructions.”
Acting Deputy Minister of Health and Sports and Deputy Prime Minister Ts.Oyunbaatar were obliged with taking care of S.Erdene’s medical treatment and Erdenes TT was ordered to cover all medical expenses.
The PM dismissed B.Batbileg from the position of acting CEO, and appointed Director in Charge of Legal Affairs of Erdenes Mongol T.Bilgee as the new acting CEO of Erdenes TT.
Currently, S.Erdene is being treated at the Burn Center of the National Trauma and Orthopaedic Research Center.
Doctor T.Bat-Erdene of the Burn Center said, “Approximately 30 to 40 percent of Erdene’s body was burnt. His four limbs and the majority of his body was burnt.  The burn impacted his respiratory system, so he is in critical condition and in shock. After his condition improves we may operate on him. Because the burn affected his respiratory system, it may be dangerous for the patient’s life.”
S.Erdene’s actions shocked the public. Some people feel sorry for him and believe he acted as he did because he couldn’t continue to withstand the fight with Erdenes TT. There are also rumors that he was paid to do what he did and that there were other political forces at work behind the publicity it would raise. Public response to the incident was immediate and voiced many strong opinions.
Sumo wrestler Asashoryu D.Dagvadorj said on Twitter, “I cannot withstand any more. Let’s fight.” Irgenii Shudarga Shuuh, the Civil Justice Court NGO, asked the public to not spread any rumors about S.Erdene being paid to immolate himself and to not “play with his pain”.
The police have launched a criminal case against Erdene for attempted suicide and for starting a fire in the building. Other trade union members that were present at last Friday’s press conference are also being investigated by the Sukhbaatar District Police.
On Saturday, members of the Solidarity Trade Union met with authorities of Erdenes TT in an attempt to resolve current disputes. The trade union members said that workers that were on strike have returned to work. Erdenes TT reported that the company and the trade union will create a working group to review the joint agreement with TTJV Co., and added that the issue will be resolved in the near future.

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Posted by on Nov 16 2015. Filed under Opinion, Онцлох мэдээлэл. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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