June 10, 2020 / 10:05 PM / a month ago

Brazil prosecutors expand probe into Vale's efforts to shield workers from COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of of mining company Vale SA is pictured, after the collapse of a tailings dam in an iron mine in Brumadinho in Brazil, in St-Prex, Switzerland January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The office that enforces labor laws in Brazil’s Para state has stepped up an investigation into potential shortcomings in mining giant Vale’s (VALE3.SA) efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus, authorities said on Wednesday.

The federal labor prosecutor’s office in Para has an internal working group in place known as the GEAF to monitor Vale’s iron ore operations in the Carajas region, near the eastern fringe of the Amazon rainforest.

The group was initially created to monitor the safety of mining waste dams in the region, after a pair of Vale-linked dams collapsed in recent years, killing hundreds.

In a statement on Wednesday, the federal labor prosecutor’s office, or MPT, said it was expanding GEAF’s remit to help gauge the measures Vale has put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 among workers.

The isolated region around Carajas is responsible for over 7% of the world’s iron ore production, and it has become a major coronavirus hotspot, spooking traders who are sensitive to any possible supply disruptions.

Vale is already complying with the measures to prevent contagion recommended by the MPT in all its operations “to preserve the health and safety of its employees and third parties”, the company said in a statement sent to Reuters.

In Parauapebas, a city in the region with a high concentration of mine workers, the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases shot up from just under 2,000 at the end of May to 5,413 on Tuesday, according to municipal data.

In its statement, the MPT urged Vale to implement preventative measures against contagion, such as reducing the number of passengers on its buses and withdrawing workers over 60 years old without cutting their pay.

In a previous statement, Vale said more than 75% of its workforce in the region, including contractors, had been tested.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Tom Brown and Himani Sarkar

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