Trade unions call on the cement industry to clean up their act


In the context of seismic changes in the cement sector, and growing insecurity of the workforce, the Building and Wood Workers’ International, representing 350 Trade Unions in 130 countries, conducted a global survey on working conditions in the cement industry. The survey shows an alarming extension of subcontracting in the industry leading to lack of trade union representation and a huge number of preventable fatal accidents in the sector. 

Workers’ representatives in 113 cement plants from 40 countries gave their opinions on five subjects: trade union rights, subcontracting and outsourcing, health and safety at work, climate change and remuneration/ social protection. The BWI survey highlights major challenges in the cement industry. 

The survey shows an alarming extension of subcontracting in the industry, which is no longer targeted subcontracting, it is an organized wholesale outsourcing policy, which includes the core production activities and affects up to 75% of activities in the new plants. This situation is all the more worrying because in parallel the survey reveals the vulnerability of subcontracted workers who are often not reached by the trade unions, excluded by the companies from collective agreements, and more exposed to exploitation, bad working conditions, occupational accidents, diseases and fatalities. 

The overall health and safety assessment is frightening since 30% of the cement plants surveyed report at least one death over the last 3 years and 60% recognize occupational diseases. Figures that contrast with managerial practices since 20% of the plants still do not have regular medical visits for workers. 

“The cement industry needs to clean up their act,” says Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of the BWI. He continued, “Cement industry is hazardous, but prevention of accidents and ill health is seriously undermined by the abuse of outsourcing in the sector and its refusal to take respon- sibility for bad working conditions. Trade Unions have the capacity to help the companies but their expertise is being shut out because unions challenge the industry’s exploitative employment policies and labour practices. Trade Union rights are human rights, and it is time for the cement companies to respect these fundamental rights.” 

The survey confirms that the industry does not integrate unions in their policies and there is an absence of genuine consultation. “Decent work” says Yuson “working time, wages, social pro- tection, equality and health and safety - is where companies strive to keep costs low and profits high, at the expense of the people who work for them.” 

In the light of the survey findings, trade unions from 43 countries in the BWI Global Cement Network met in Panama City and drew up recommendations for all the cement companies to im- prove their employment policies and labour practices and to engage in real social dialogue with the workforce. 

The recommendations include the commitment to respect ILO Conventions, particularly freedom of association and collective bargaining rights and to sign International Framework Agreements on labour rights. It calls for commitments to reduce the number of contractors, to keep core production activities in house, and improve selection, management and monitoring of labour stan- dards in outsourced companies. Unions want Global agreements on Occupational Health and Safety and increased protection of every worker regardless of their contractual status. 

BWI Global H&S Director, Fiona Murie says “Companies must do better. We want them to ensure there are elected and trained trade union H&S representatives, joint management union health and safety committees and proper management of H&S for all workers, not only direct employ- ees. Specifically, we want respiratory health management, a 25 kilo maximum weight limit for ma- nual handling and Zero Cancer campaigns throughout the industry. We desperately need a more democratic, less militaristic, rule- based approach to prevention. The industry’s current behaviou- ral safety schemes are a failed model.” 

The BWI General Secretary, Ambet Yuson informs “The global report will be presented at the International Labour Organisation in the presence of the ILO General Director Guy Ryder on November 28th. The BWI has sent the report to all the major cement companies urging action, and BWI affiliates world-wide are requesting meetings with their management to take a serious look at how they can clean up their act.” 

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