LA PAZ – The Bolivian government will take back mining concessions from cooperatives that entered partnerships with private companies, Mining Minister Cesar Navarro said on Thursday.
The reversion of concessions to the state is part of a package of measures announced following a Cabinet meeting focused on a conflict with the cooperatives that has led to the deaths of four miners and the brutal murder of a senior official.
Cooperatives will also be required to give up concessions they are not actively exploiting and to begin submitting detailed reports on their operations to the government, Navarro said.
Officials will receive data on production volume, revenues and the distribution of the profits among co-op partners, the minister said.
Navarro’s colleague, Labor Minister Gonzalo Trigoso, said the Cabinet issued a decree extending full labor rights – including the right to join or form unions – to the employees of the cooperatives, effective immediately.
The employees, known as “peons” or “second hands,” currently work under precarious and often abusive conditions, with no job security, no right to organize and no access to the government benefits enjoyed by the co-op partners.
While the leaders of the cooperatives say they represent some 150,000 people, the vast majority of those are peons who do not share in the profits.
The origin of the conflict between the government and the co-ops was the cooperatives’ opposition to a law they saw as opening the door to collective-bargaining rights for their employees, even though the legislation specifically excluded the sector.
The decree announced by Trigoso goes far beyond the law that spurred the cooperatives last week to block highways.
Police attempts to clear the roads triggered confrontations in which four miners died – one accidentally blew himself up with dynamite – and Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes was beaten to death by co-op members when he visited a protest site in hopes of starting a dialogue.
Government officials say cooperatives that don’t abide by the principles of solidarity must transform themselves into ordinary private firms subject to the relevant laws and taxes.