Solidarity Greeting by Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of BWI - FILCA-CISL Congress - June 6 to 8, 2017

08 June 2017 15:06

Franco Turri, President, members of the board, delegates, Friends, Comrades, and Honored Guests, it is with great pleasure and honour to address you at this important Congress to convey solidarity greetings from the 12 million members of BWI - Building and Wood Workers’ International, BWI.  I would like to take this opportunity to address a few challenges facing workers and trade unions in Europe and globally.

The theme of your Congress — Lavoro in Corso / Work in Progress.  This is both  timely and relevant as Europe is at an important juncture in history and the future of Europe really depends on the which road that we the trade union movement takes forward. What we want is to build a progressive Italy, a social Europe, and a fair globalized world which means People First! and this is indeed Work in Progress — Lavoro in Corso.

Italy and many other European countries are still suffering from the 2008 financial and economic crisis, the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The construction industry has not done well because of the impact of the recession, austerity programmes, and a lack of credit. In some countries, collective bargaining has also been undermined.

The Great Recession was made in the United States and exported to Europe. It created problems that were dealt with by European institutions and the IMF in such a way that it damaged “social Europe” and decades of social progress that trade unions such as FILCA has worked hard to build brick by brick. 

America First! Italy second? or Europe second? This is the message that Trump delivered during his visit here in Italy few weeks ago. He undermined European solidarity. We should not allow this. It must be People First and Workers First!

Today is the general election in UK.  Brexit should make us all reflect about / what Europe has become / and what it should be. For a long time, Europe has been too much about markets and not enough about people. Social progress has been the poor relative of the single market.  However, Brexit is not a reason to abandon the EU, but rather a mandate to fix it. To make it more accountable and democratic. To make it an instrument, not an enemy of social justice.

Lavoro in Corso…Work in Progress

Migration is not only an issue that impacts Europe but it is a global issue.  It is also an important issue for the BWI and the construction workers we represent.

Italy is currently at the front-lines of the migration issue as thousands of migrants and refugees land on the shores of Italy seeking safety and freedom.  Few weeks ago, more than 8,000 migrants and refugees crossed the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean hoping to seek a better life for themselves and their families.  Seeking a better life, this is something that is a rich part of Italian history as throughout the years, Italians have migrated globally building communities and living long-lasting legacies.

In recent years, you have been receiving migrant workers at a time when economic conditions are difficult in the industry and in the overall economy. And, yet, you have maintained your positive attitude towards migrants.  Instead of blaming migrants from being a burden to society, FILCA has played an important role in focusing on the contributions of migrants. 

You have welcomed migrants, trained them with the necessary skills to enter the labour market, provided them with support to integrate them into society, and advocated for policies to ensure the rights of migrants.

Lavoro in Corso….Work in Progress

I just want to underline two central BWI positions that unite the interests of migrant and national workers.

Firstly, the most effective way to stop successive waves of people fleeing for their lives is to eliminate the causes of their flight. Most people leave their homelands because they have little or no choice. Poverty, unemployment, dictatorship as well as issues such as peace and global warming are root causes of displacement of persons and they are, at the same time, domestic, regional and global issues.

Secondly, the best way to protect national workers and to guard against social dumping is to protect the rights of migrant workers.

Migrant workers must have the same rights as national workers to join trade unions, to be covered by collective agreements, by minimum wages, by occupational health and safety protections, and by social security.

BWI is dealing with multinational companies every day. It is clear that multinational companies are global.   These companies are not confined to national borders and they are not nationalistic nor European in perspective.  Multinational companies focus on profits and they will go anywhere and everywhere to get more profits.

The merger of Lafarge and Holcim is a clear example of this, where the objective for the merger was to increase profit and dominate the cement market without considering that in this process, 15,000 workers were terminated and unable to feed their families.  Safety and health is a major concern we have at Lafarge Holcim.  In 2016 alone after the merger — 86 workers died…; more than 50 percent of the workers are contract workers without rights.

We have won the first battle in our fight to ensure workers’ rights in Europe with the creation of the Lafarge Holcim European Works council.  However, our struggle continues and Lavoro in Corso….Work in Progress.  We need to continue to fight and push for a global framework agreement. 

The merger of Italicementi and Heidelberg is also about profit without taking into account that in the process hundreds of workers lost their jobs.  Our struggle continues and we must campaign against Heidelberg who refuse to recognise the collective bargaining agreement in many countries.

BWI with FILCA and the Italian unions signed a global agreement with Salini-Impregilio.  The global agreement with Salini Impregilio resulted to increase wages and improved benefits of construction workers in Panama, Uganda  and Namibia.  Grazie FILCA for your strong and continued solidarity.

Our comrades in Qatar and Australia need your support.  I am sure that we can engage Salini-Impregilio into a dialogue to recognise the trade unions in Qatar and Australia.

Lavoro in Corso….Work in Progress

Without Workers’ Rights, there will be No World Cup in Qatar.  FILCA is in the forefront this campaign and for this I want to express a tremendous thanks to you.

Despite the changes as announced by the Qatari government, the kafala system is basically still in place. Hundreds of workers have complained to us of low and delayed wages, confiscation of passports, contract substitution and payment of high recruitment fees. And workers have no right to join trade unions.   However, we are making gains step by step on the long road to victory for migrant workers in Qatar.

BWI signed an important Memorandum of Understanding with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar to ensure safety and health at all 2022 World Cup stadium sites.  An important part of this agreement is joint safety and health inspections.  In April, FILCA represented by Claudio Sottile and from RLST Andrea Rossi participated in the joint inspection of the world cup stadium in Qatar being build by Salini-Impregilio.  Your recommendations of the inspection team has improved the health and safety condition of migrant workers. Grazie FILCA for your support.

Lavoro in Corso - Work in progress.  We need to have an agreement with Salini-Impregilio to ensure that workers in the stadium are protected.

FIFA President Infantino finally admitted that there were “human rights abuse of North Korean migrant workers” at the St. Petersburg stadium.  BWI had raised this concerns based on our findings when we conducted a joint inspection last November. This admission shows that our global campaign is making a difference.

As the result of the Swiss government mediation between BWI and FIFA, FIFA finally accepted responsibility of ensuring human rights in the construction of the 2022 stadiums in Qatar. Again this is a major breakthrough.  Grazie FILCA for your campaign.

With these steps forward, FIFA has asked BWI, “Why is the BWI continuing with the campaign — Red Card for FIFA?” Now, I would like to ask you — should we give FIFA a red card or a yellow card? 

Yes, steps have been taken and we are moving forward, but until substantial improvements in the working and living conditions and increase wages of construction workers building the stadiums in both Russia and Qatar, it is still RED CARD FOR FIFA. 

Thank you. Lavoro in Corso! Amandla!