Brazil: BWI organizes Dams Workers´ Network and Warns of Risk of More Accidents


BWI took the first steps towards the construction of a global network of dam workers during the 2-day event “Safe Work, Safe Communities”, held in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil on 20-21 September 2017.

Brazilian dam workers are giving a lead in the building of a global network because of the Samarco dam collapse in November of 2015, a tragedy that killed nineteen people and has become known as Brazil's worst environmental disaster. Fourteen of those killed in this incident were members of BWI affiliated unions.

Trade union representatives from around the country met to deepen their knowledge about the construction, maintenance and operation of dams in Brazil and around the world. Health and safety practices and trade union access to work sites, members and potential members quickly emerged as priority issues.

Local strategies and practices related to these issues as well as working conditions, training, unionization and hiring practices were shared and discussed. Outsourcing practices received particular attention because of the commonality of this practice. Thirteen of the fourteen workers killed in the Mariana tragedy noted above were working for companies providing services to Samarco, not directly for Samarco.

More than 17,000 of the close to 58,000 dams around the world are located in Brazil. Shockingly, only 4% of those dams are regularly inspected. 79% don’t have clear information about their heights and 45% don’t have information about volumes. More than a third don’t even have clear information about the responsible organization or individual. 13% of Brazilian dams are classified as ‘at risk’ and another 12% are classified as ‘high risk’.

All of these dams are constructed and maintained by thousands of Brazilian workers that are members or potential members of BWI.

The Brazilian trade union network of dam workers launched in Belo Horizonte will serve as the base for the creation of a global network in 2018. Despite the differences between companies and countries, dam workers have to be protected on a global scale. Their work also has important effects on and implications for the environment and local communities, particularly indigenous communities.

BWI brought dam worker experiences from Pakistan, Namibia and Uganda. Despite the difficulty of access, due in part to the geographical isolation of some of these projects, unions are fighting and winning. BWI also highlighted the potential to use the World Bank´s performance standards on labour and working conditions as a platform upon which to build a wider social dialogue.

This reality combined with BWI’s decision to consolidate its work in its represented industries establishes the need to convene regional and global meetings in order to deepen and consolidate the understanding of local particularities and the potential to strengthen local unions.