India: Workers call on Faber-Castell to address long-standing demands

(Photo: Meeting of the  Global Union Network on Faber-Castell on 16 September)

Workers employed by Faber-Castell (FC), one of the world's largest and oldest manufacturers of pens, pencils and other office supplies, are asking their company to heed their demands for better pay and working conditions. In FC’s plant in Goa, India, workers called on their management to address their long-standing “charter of demands,” which calls for wage and allowance increases, insurance coverage, changing rooms for workers, potable hot and cold water and a separate space for their union office. The workers issued the demands in 2019 after their last agreement with the company expired a year before.

Leading the call for the company to heed the workers’ demands is the Goa Trade and Commercial Workers Union (GT&CWU), which has been continually pursuing discussions with the company. GT&CWU said that FC’s Indian plant employs 104 contractuals (employed by JALALU, Anand Mandal and Sali Jacob contractors) compared to its 28 permanent workers and 24 production associates. Precarious work is a major concern among contractual workers, whose fear of being dismissed from work has prevented them from joining the union.  

GT&CWU has also reported occupational health and safety issues, saying that the company has failed to provide its workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) and insurance coverage amidst a pandemic.  

“The FC management must show urgency in responding to the workers’ languishing charter of demands, which has become more urgent in light of the difficulties posed by COVID-19 and rising inflation. It also needs to ensure the implementation of occupational health and safety measures, which are in line with government guidelines. In particular, COVID-19 safeguards and insurance coverage must be put in place to secure the health and well-being of its workers,” GT&CWU President  Christopher Fonseca said.  

In an 8 October meeting with one of the company’s Board Members and Director on Human Resources, a union representative raised the same issues and demands. The company explained that the negotiation process in India is longer compared to other countries and its plant in Goa is not making enough profit which prevents it from raising the salaries of its long-serving workers. The company, however, agreed to follow-up its Indian plant regarding the PPE provision and insurance coverage of its workers. 

(Photo: Meeting of the  Global Union Network on Faber-Castell on 16 September)

As a response, BWI has extended its support to GT&CWU by helping the union develop a strategy to persuade the company to address its demands. 

It can be recalled that in 2000, BWI and IG Metall signed a Social Charter (International Framework Agreement) with FC on freedom of association and collective bargaining, decent wages and work conditions, safety at work, proper working hours, among others. 

Last year, the Global Union Network on Faber-Castell was also convened, which had a dialogue with FC in its headquarters in Stein, Germany. BWI and IG Metall expected that the unsatisfactory high percentage of temporary workers in the company’s operation in India would be addressed and other issues on freedom of association and working conditions would be tackled in a planned social audit last March. However, due to COVID-19, the said social audit was postponed.

“It is with great concern that we have learned from union representatives of the workers’ unresolved long-pending issues at the FC plant in Goa, India and its need to fully comply with the Social Charter. We remind FC to work only with contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers that recognize and implement the standards and recommendations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This is important to secure decent working conditions in the middle of a  pandemic,“ said Michael Knoche of IG Metall.  

Last September, the FC headquarters has initiated a process of self-assessment to contemplate on the serious issues raised to them and is expected to present its responses to BWI and IG-Metall by mid-November.