Uganda: Fire in Holcim subsidiary kills 3, injures 8 others

Three workers died and several others were critically injured when a fire broke out last 15 January at the Hima Cement factory, a subsidiary of Holcim, in the Kasese District of Western Uganda.

The victims were reportedly doing installation work at a light diesel oil tank when it exploded and burst into flames. Workers Anyama Isack, Owora Nickolus and Modi Vincent died, while eight others were injured and rushed to a hospital in critical condition.

The tragedy is just the latest in a growing list of work-related accidents in different Holcim cement plants which have injured and claimed the lives of many workers. 

It was reported that in October and November of 2021, several workers were injured and killed in Holcim subsidiary plants in India. According to reports, on 8 October, a 49-year old loader was found dead in a wagon-loading machine platform at the ACC Wadi Cement in Karnataka. A 39-year old cement truck driver on 13 October was also found dead alongside his truck at the ACC Bargarh Cement in Orissa. 

A month later, another worker was killed and several others were injured in Holcim’s subsidiary plants (Ambuja) in India. It was reported that on 18 November, a worker was killed and five others were injured at the Marwar cement plant in the Nagaur district of Rajasthan. Before this, a worker was seriously injured at the Maratha Cement Works in Maharashtra on 11 November. 

BWI expressed its growing alarm and concern over the spate of fatal work-related accidents in different Holcim cement plants. It also expressed its solidary to the families of the deceased and injured. The global union said that it is pushing for a comprehensive, transparent and impartial investigation of the incident, with the participation of the Uganda Building, Construction, Civil Engineering, Cement and Allied Workers Union (UBCCECAWU). BWI asserted that the trade union, as well as the families of the injured and deceased, have the right to know what really happened to establish different levels of accountability, and improve health and safety protocols. It also pushed for just compensation for the families of the victims. 

BWI is also demanding a written report on the accident, including information on existing remedies and compensation available to the victims, and corrective measures that have been undertaken in order to avoid similar accidents in the future. It said that it will exacting accountability from the Hima Cement management, particularly Organisation and Human Resources Director Florence Bamwine, Cement CEO Jean-Michel Pons, Hima, Hima Cement Plant Manager Vladimir Kouzmine, and Holcim Regional Head Europe, Middle East and Africa Miljan Gutovic.

“Apologising for this latest accident, on top of the others, doesn’t cut it anymore. These are no longer isolated incidents. There is clearly a dangerous pattern of work-related accidents in Holcim that have injured and killed many workers. Beyond Holcim's apology, what workers need is justice,” BWI said.  

BWI observed that the Uganda accident happened one year after half of the remaining members of the local trade union in the plant was dismissed. It explained that five years ago, over three hundred directly-employed workers organised into a union in Hima Cement. In November 2020, Hima Cement retrenched another 28 workers, most of whom were union members. Today, the plant has only 135 directly-employed workers, many of whom fear joining a union. 

BWI reiterated its call to Holcim to abandon its labour subcontracting policy and make concrete commitments to workers’ rights. It said that the policy deprives workers of their right to regular and secure jobs and exposes them to unnecessary health and safety risks.  

The resumption of the bipartite safety committee meetings in all of Holcim’s operations and the strengthening of the inspectorate and monitoring system were also pushed by BWI. It also called on Hima Cement to engage trade unions in constructive dialogues, stop its union-busting schemes and end the abuse of subcontracted and third-party workers, and exercise due diligence in the selection, management and compliance of contractors. 

BWI also called on Holcim to stop paying extravagant dividends and compensation to its management at the expense of workers’ benefits. It asserted that the dividends could be better spent in ensuring the health and safety of its workers and providing decent wages and benefits. 

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