IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining (Draft 2.0)
Chapter 2.1 Fair Labor and Terms of Work

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Responsible employers provide fair wages and respectful workplaces. However, historically, a portion of the labor force has been the subject of mistreatment such as child and forced labor, discrimination, inadequate wages, and lack of respect for workers' rights.

In 1919, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was formed to protect workers’ rights. Since that time, a number of internationally-recognized human rights of workers have been enumerated and incorporated into laws world-wide. These include the UN International Bill of Human Rights, and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and eight core ILO conventions that cover: freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. In addition to acknowledging the need to safeguard those human rights of workers, companies are increasingly recognizing the need to provide working hours and wages that promote a high quality of life for workers and their families.

The fundamental principles and rights of workers have been incorporated into various voluntary standards to protect labor rights and ensure fair working conditions (e.g., International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 2; Social Accountability International SA8000; Global Reporting Initiative). Within any responsible labor standard and verification system, there is an inextricable link between the role of workers and the practice of freedom of association. Workers with first-hand knowledge of environmental, human rights and labor practices must have the right to participate in the verification process without fear of employer retribution. This can be best guaranteed by workers having the right to freely establish or join trade unions of their choosing without employer interference and through protections provided in collective bargaining agreements.

Objectives/Intent of this Chapter

To maintain or enhance the social and economic wellbeing of mine workers and respect internationally recognized workers’ rights.

Scope of Application

Chapter Relevance:  This chapter is applicable to all mines applying for IRMA certification.

IRMA recognizes that some of the requirements of this chapter may be included in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If such an agreement is in place, the operating company will not be expected to meet the IRMA requirements that overlap with those in the CBA.

As per IRMA Chapter 1.1, the operating company is responsible for ensuring that its contractors and subcontractors involved in mining-related activities comply with the IRMA Standard.

References in this chapter to primary suppliers/supply chain (, do not include material or components used in the construction phase of the mining project. 


  • Changed the title of the chapter. It was Fair Labor and Working Conditions, but working conditions are addressed more in Chapter 2.2 than in this chapter.
  • Removed specific references in the chapter to IFC Performance Standard 2 and ILO Conventions upon which the Wages and Working Hours criteria are based. In IRMA Guidance we will provide more information on how our requirements align with these two internationally-recognized systems.
  • Rewrote and re-organized some of the criteria to increase clarity and/or to remove duplication.
  • The means of verification (MOV) have been removed from this version of the draft IRMA Standard. If you would prefer to review and comment on a version of the draft Standard that has the means of verification, you can download a pdf version of the Standard with MOV.

Fair Labor and Terms of Work Requirements

2.1.1.  Human Resources Policy  The operating company shall adopt and implement human resources policies and procedures that set out its approach to managing workers in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of this chapter and national law.

2.1.2.  Workers’ Organizations and Agreements  The operating company shall respect the rights of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining.  Where national law substantially restricts workers’ organizations, the operating company shall not restrict workers from developing alternative mechanisms to express their grievances and protect their rights regarding working conditions and terms of employment. The operating company shall not seek to influence or control these mechanisms.  The operating company shall engage with workers’ representatives and workers’ organizations, and provide them with information needed for meaningful negotiation in a timely manner.  Workers’ representatives shall have access to facilities needed to carry out their functions in the workplace. This includes access to designated non-work areas during organizing efforts for the purposes of communicating with employees, as well as accommodations for workers’ representatives at fly-in/fly-out or other remotely located mine sites, where relevant.  The operating company shall remain neutral in any legitimate unionizing or worker-organizing effort; shall not produce or distribute material meant to disparage legitimate trade unions; shall not establish or support a company union for the purpose of undermining legitimate worker representation; and shall not impose sanctions on workers organizations participating in a legal strike.[1]  Upon employment, the operating company shall inform workers:

a.  Of their rights under national labor and employment law and any applicable collective agreements; and

b.  That they are free to join a workers’ organization of their choosing without any negative consequences or retaliation from the operating company.  The operating company shall not discriminate or retaliate against workers who participate, or seek to participate, in legitimate workers organizations or in a legal strike.[2]  Where the operating company is a party to a collective bargaining agreement with a workers’ organization, the terms of the agreement shall be respected. Where such an agreement does not exist, or an agreement does not address specific requirements in this chapter, the operating company shall meet the relevant IRMA requirements.  The operating company shall not make use of short-term contracts or other measures to undermine a collective bargaining agreement or worker organizing effort, or to avoid obligations to employees under applicable labor and social security laws and regulations.  The operating company shall not hire replacement workers in order to prevent or break up a legal strike, support a lockout, or avoid negotiating in good faith. The operating company may, however, hire replacement workers to ensure that critical maintenance, health and safety, and environmental control measures are maintained during a legal strike.

2.1.3.  Non-Discrimination and Equal Opportunity  The operating company shall base employment relationships [3] on the principles of equal opportunity and fair treatment, and shall not discriminate or make employment decisions on the basis of personal characteristics unrelated to inherent job requirements. [4]  Exceptions to may be made with respect to hiring and recruitment in the case of: 

a.  Targets or quotas mandated by law;

b.  Targets developed through local agreements for the employment of local residents, indigenous peoples, or individuals who have been historically disadvantaged; or

c.   Operating company targets for the employment of local residents, indigenous peoples, or individuals who have been historically disadvantaged that are expressed in publicly accessible policies with explicit goals and justification for such targets.  The operating company shall take measures to prevent and address harassment, intimidation, and/or exploitation, especially in regard to female workers.

2.1.4.  Retrenchment  Prior to implementing any collective dismissals,[5] the operating company shall carry out an analysis of alternatives to retrenchment [6].

If the analysis does not identify viable alternatives to retrenchment, a retrenchment plan shall be developed in consultation with workers, their organizations, and, where appropriate, the government. The plan shall be based on the principle of non-discrimination, [7] and be implemented to reduce the adverse impacts of retrenchment on workers.  The operating company shall ensure that all workers receive notice of dismissal and severance payments mandated by law and collective agreements in a timely manner. All outstanding back pay, social security benefits, and pension contributions and benefits shall be paid on or before termination of the working relationship, or in accordance with a timeline agreed through a collective agreement. Payments shall be made directly to workers, or to appropriate institutions for the benefit of workers. [8] Where payments are made for the benefit of workers, they shall be provided with evidence of such payments.

2.1.5.  Grievance Mechanism The operating company shall provide a grievance mechanism for workers (and their organizations, where they exist) to raise workplace concerns. The mechanism:

a.  Shall involve an appropriate level of management and address concerns promptly, using an understandable and transparent process that provides timely feedback to those concerned, without any retribution;

b.  Shall allow for anonymous complaints to be raised and addressed; and

c.   Shall not impede access to other judicial or administrative remedies that might be available under the law or through existing arbitration procedures, or substitute for grievance mechanisms provided through collective agreements.  The operating company shall inform the workers of the grievance mechanism at the time of recruitment and make it easily accessible to them.

2.1.6.  Disciplinary Procedures  The operating company shall not use corporal punishment, harsh or degrading treatment, sexual or physical harassment, mental, physical or verbal abuse, coercion or intimidation of workers during disciplinary actions.  The operating company shall keep records of all disciplinary actions taken.

2.1.7.  Child Labor The operating company shall identify the presence of child workers (persons under the age of 18). If a child worker is identified, the company shall ensure that risks to the physical or mental health of the child are assessed and minimized, and that regular monitoring of the child’s health, working conditions and hours of work occurs.  The minimum age of children employed:

a.   For hazardous work [9] shall be 18, or the minimum age outlined in national law, whichever is higher; and

b.   For non-hazardous work shall be 15, or the minimum age outlined in national law, whichever is higher.  If the operating company discovers that a child below the minimum age for hazardous or non-hazardous mining-related work is employed:

a.   The child shall be removed immediately from age-inappropriate tasks; and

b.   Remediation procedures shall be developed and implemented that take into consideration the welfare of the child and the financial situation of the child’s family.  Where there is a high risk of child labor in the mine’s primary supply chain, the operating company shall develop and implement procedures to monitor its primary suppliers to determine if children below the minimum age for hazardous or non-hazardous work are being employed. If any cases are identified, the operating company shall ensure that appropriate steps are taken to remedy them. Where remedy is not possible, the operating company shall shift the project’s primary supply chain over time to suppliers that can demonstrate that they are complying with this chapter.

2.1.8.  Forced Labor  The operating company shall not employ forced labor or participate in the trafficking of persons  Where there is a high risk of forced or trafficked labor in the mine’s primary supply chain, the operating company shall develop and implement procedures to monitor its primary suppliers to determine if forced labor or trafficked workers are being employed. If any cases are identified, the operating company shall ensure that appropriate steps are taken to remedy them. Where remedy is not possible, the operating company shall shift the project’s primary supply chain over time to suppliers that can demonstrate that they are complying with this chapter. 

2.1.9.  Wages Issue in Brief:  Many certification schemes have already included living wage requirements in their Standards (e.g., Forest Stewardship Council, Social Accountability International, Fairtrade International), but these organizations continue to actively test methods and revise their application of the living wage concept. 

Ideally, IRMA and other systems would simply require that participants demonstrate that they are paying a living wage. One of the greatest challenges with the living wage concept, however, is that there is no universally accepted methodology for calculating living wage. Consequently, there is no reliable database of global living wage values for different locations; and therefore, no simple way for companies or IRMA auditors to compare mining wages at an operation to a living wage for the region where the mine is located. 

A coalition of organizations and initiatives including ISEAL, FSC, SAI and Fairtrade International and others are carrying out living wage studies, using a consistent methodology, which is a big step forward. IRMA could make it a requirement that all operations applying for IRMA certification carry out a living wage study using this methodology to demonstrate that they are paying living wages. However, no other certification system demands that all of its applicants carry out living wage studies.

IRMA is interested in exploring the options for thresholds above which a company might be required to carry out a living wage study, or other triggers, such as complaints, that might compel a company to undertake such studies.

We welcome stakeholder input on this issue.  The operating company shall pay workers wages that meet or exceed minimum mining industry standards, collective bargaining agreements, or a living wage, where these are higher than the legal minimum wages. When none of these exist, the operating company shall, through engagement with workers, develop a mechanism for determining, and a timeline for achieving living wages for employees of the mining operation.  Overtime hours shall be paid at a rate defined in a collective bargaining agreement or national law, and if neither exists, at a rate above the regular hourly wage.  All workers shall be provided with written and understandable information about wages (overtime rates, benefits, deductions and bonuses) before they enter employment, and for the pay period each time they are paid.  The operating company shall pay wages in a manner that is reasonable for workers (e.g., bank transfer, cash or check).  The operating company shall ensure that deductions from wages are not made for disciplinary purposes unless one of the following conditions exist: 

a.   Deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes are permitted by national law, and the law guarantees the procedural fairness of the disciplinary action; or

b.   Deductions from wages for disciplinary purposes are permitted in a freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement or arbitration award.

2.1.10.  Working Hours and Leave  The operating company shall ensure that:

a.   Regular working hours do not exceed eight hours per day, or 48 per week. Where workers are employed in shifts the 8-hour day and 48-hour week may be exceeded, provided that the average number of regular hours worked over a 3-week period does not exceed 8 hours per day and 48 hours per week;

b.   Workers are provided with at least 24 consecutive hours off in every 7-day period;

c.    Overtime is consensual, and limited to 12 hours a week.

d.   Exceptions to, b and c shall be allowed if:

i. A freely negotiated collective bargaining agreement is in force that allows variances to the work, rest and/or overtime hours above; or

ii. Through consultations with workers representatives, a risk management process that includes a risk assessment for extended working hours is established to minimize the impact of longer working hours on the health, safety and welfare of workers.  Where neither national law nor a collective bargaining agreement includes provisions for worker leave, the operating company shall, at minimum, provide:

a.   An annual paid holiday of at least three working weeks for each year of service; and

b.   A maternity leave period of no less than 14 weeks, which includes a compulsory six weeks of leave after childbirth. 


This chapter uses, as its basis, the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standard 2 (PS 2) Labor and Working Conditions. In addition to aligning with IFC performance standard requirements, this chapter contains two other criteria related to Wages (2.1.10) and Working Hours and Leave (2.1.11), which contain requirements that are based, in part, on ILO conventions. Where IFC or ILO concepts have been integrated into IRMA criteria, they are referenced in IRMA Guidance.

Cross Reference to Other Chapters



1.1—Legal Compliance As per Chapter 1.1, if host country laws are more protective of workers’ rights or provide more favourable terms of work, those requirements shall supersede IRMA requirements (i.e., companies are required, at minimum to follow host country law). But if IRMA requirements are more stringent than host country law, the company is required to also meet the IRMA requirements, as long as complying with them would not require the company to break host country law.

Also, the operating company is responsible for ensuring that its contractors and subcontractors involved in mining-related activities comply with the requirements of this chapter of the IRMA Standard.
2.2—Occupational Health and Safety Although there are some requirements in this chapter that have a health and safety aspect (such as Child Labor and Working Hours), worker-related issues related to occupational health and safety issues are specifically covered in Chapter 2.2.
2.8—Community and Stakeholder Engagement Workers are stakeholders, and also often members of the affected communities. As such, the engagement process with workers should align with the requirements in Chapter 2.8. 
2.13—Grievance Mechanism and Access to Other Remedies There is potential overlap with Chapter 2.13. It is possible that one grievance mechanism may be suitable to address grievances raised in relation to the mining operation from all stakeholders including workers, [10] however, typically labor grievances are dealt with through a separate mechanism established through collective bargaining agreements or human resources policies. [11]




1. Employment relationships include:  recruitment and hiring, compensation (including wages and benefits), working conditions and terms of employment, access to training, job assignment, promotion, termination of employment or retirement, and disciplinary practices.

2. Personal Characteristics unrelated to inherent job requirements may include: gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, social and indigenous origin, religion or belief, disability, HIV status, age, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, worker status (e.g., local vs. migrant workers), political affiliation, union membership and veteran status.

3. Collective dismissals cover all multiple dismissals that are a result of an economic, technical, or organizational reason; or other reasons that are not related to performance or other personal reasons.

4. Examples of alternatives may include negotiated working-time reduction programs, employee capacity-building programs; long-term maintenance works during low production periods, etc. (Source: IFC Performance Standard 2 - PS2.)

5. Selection criteria for those to be laid off should be objective, fair, and transparent. The retrenchment should not be based on personal characteristics unrelated to inherent job requirements. (Source: IFC PS2.) 

6. Nothing in this requirement shall remove the right of an operating company to seek enforcement action when workers, workers’ representatives or workers’ organizations are operating in contravention to laws or regulations.

7. Nothing in this requirement shall remove the right of an operating company to seek enforcement action when workers, workers’ representatives or workers’ organizations are operating in contravention to laws or regulations.

8. In some jurisdictions companies be obligated by law to transfer certain payments to specific institutions such as pension fund administration, health funds, etc. In such cases companies would not provide payments directly to the worker but for the benefit of the worker to the appropriate institution. In cases where payments to certain institutions are optional the client will provide options to the worker who might chose either a direct cash payment or payment to a defined institution. (Source: IFC PS2)

9. Examples of hazardous work activities include work (i) with exposure to physical, psychological, or sexual abuse; (ii) underground, underwater, working at heights, or in confined spaces; (iii) with dangerous machinery, equipment, or tools, or involving handling of heavy loads; (iv) in unhealthy environments exposing the worker to hazardous substances, agents, processes, temperatures, noise, or vibration damaging to health; or (v) under difficult conditions such as long hours, late night, or confinement by employer. (Source: IFC PS 2, footnote 12)

10. The OHCHR has elaborated that, “As discussed in the context of Guiding Principle 22, it is fairly usual to have separate grievance mechanisms for direct employees and for external affected stakeholders, though it is not always necessary to separate the two. (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2012. The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide. pp. 69, 70.

11. IFC. 2009. Good Practice Note: Addressing Grievances from Project-Affected Communities. p. 21.