Andrew Duffy

First published in: 

The Maritime Union of Australia is joining a global day of action today, opposing OceanaGold’s continued legal action against the El Salvador government.

The nation is being sued in a World Bank tribunal after it failed to grant a mining permit to OceanaGold subsidiary Pacific Rim.

Protesters usually gather at OceanaGold’s Melbourne office on the last Friday of every month but this new action is part of a number of demonstrations around Australia and the world.

MUA Victoria branch secretary Kevin Bracken said the company was attempting to bully El Salvador into granting a licence.

“The Salvadorian people have spoken and they have chosen clean water for their children over the short-term and limited benefits of a gold mine,” he said.

“OceanaGold should respect that choice and immediately drop the suit.”


The union said OceanaGold was relying on an investor state dispute settlement clause for its case against El Salvador.

It said Australia had also built ISDS clauses into some trade agreements and could be at risk of similar lawsuits in the future.

“What if, one day, Australia decided to nationalise mining,” MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer said.“Surely, we as a nation should have the ability to make that choice. But then we risk getting sued into bankruptcy by some multi-billion dollar corporation. “It just shows that under this capitalist system corporations have more rights than governments and, even more worryingly, people.”

Along with concerns over ISDS clauses, Bracken told the union had become involved in the dispute after originally trying to help organise the truckers in El Salvador.

Bracken has been raising awareness on the “Water Not Gold” campaign against OceanaGold after he visited El Salvador on a fact-finding mission last year.

Access to clean water in the Central American country is a key issue, with the nation previously suffering from significant environmental damage.

Protesters have concerns about the volume of water Pacific Rim plans to use at its development and are also worried about the potential for environmental harm.

An OceanaGold spokeswoman told that the company could not comment specifically on the case as it was still going through the legal process.“Our strong preference is to negotiate a settlement to the permitting impasse,” she said.

“Based on prior experience, including more than 23 years of operating safely and sustainably in New Zealand and more recently in the Philippines, we believe we are a strong partner for unlocking the value of the El Dorado project.

“We continue to engage with stakeholders at all levels in El Salvador to better understand their needs and to address their concerns on all aspects of the proposed project.”

Bracken said there were also concerns about OceanaGold’s environmental performance at the Didipio mine in the Philippines.

He noted that plans for the El Salvador project were three times larger than those covered in the original environmental study.OceanaGold acquired Canada-based Pacific Rim late last year, gaining control of the El Dorado gold-silver project.

In its last quarterly report OceanaGold said if it was unable to obtain a permit, or if it was impacted by other factors out of its control, the operations would be adversely impacted and could result in an impairment.

The final arbitration for the dispute will take place on September 15 in Washington.