Unions protested outside Swiss company LafargeHolcim’s annual shareholders meeting near Zurich today, demanding that the cement giant keeps its word and signs a global framework agreement safeguarding workers’ rights at its operations worldwide.
IndustriALL Global Union, the Building and Wood Workers’ International, the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers and Swiss affiliate Unia were joined by representatives of LafargeHolcim workers from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Uganda and the USA.
In 2017, LafargeHolcim agreed to sign a global framework agreement guaranteeing workers’ rights, with occupational health and safety as an integral part of the agreement. However, in January 2018 the company broke its word and returned to the practice of putting profit first and workers’ rights and lives second.
Since the merger in 2015, LafargeHolcim has shed 35,000 jobs and hundreds of workers have lost their lives. In 2016, 86 workers were killed, with another 65 killed in 2017. As the workforce has shrunk, the fatality rate per 100 million hours worked has increased. There have been further deaths in 2018.
BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said,
Having killed 152 people in the last two years is deeply shocking. This is not just business as usual – this is negligence of the due diligence required by law and expected by the shareholders. LafargeHolcim must start taking a more responsible and more inclusive approach to prevention.
This lack of commitment on the part of LafargeHolcim is really disappointing and difficult to understand. Trade unions can help, but LafargeHolcim is deliberately excluding us and discouraging awareness raising activities. Why? Because, despite the corporate rhetoric of ‘safety is our number one priority’, it is glaringly obvious that the top priority is profits, not people.
Lena Yuliana, a LafargeHolcim worker from Indonesia, sector co-chair and member of the Federation of Indonesian Cement Workers’ Union FSP ISI, was able to enter the meeting and address shareholders.
She told them:
Safety becomes an issue that scares workers. Instead of helping them, if an accident happens, the management blames the area manager or the workers, giving a warning letter without any proper investigation or involving the trade union. Safety and health is not only behaviour related; it must be developed jointly between management, trade union and workers. A top-down approach will not do.
"We, the workers in most of LafargeHolcim’s operations are united in trade unions. We were happy when management announced last year that there would be a global framework agreement between the global unions and LafargeHolcim as new company.
"But then we learned in early January 2018 that management had changed their opinion unilaterally to renege on its commitment to sign the global framework agreement. This was a shock.
Unions are demanding that LafargeHolcim:
- Genuinely engage in dialogue with unions and sign the promised global framework agreement
- Increase protection for vulnerable workers, especially subcontracted and third-party workers, and bring outsourcing in the company under control
- Prioritize preventing occupational diseases, including respiratory diseases caused by exposure to dust
- Respect ILO health and safety standards and ensure unions have access to workplaces and the right to make inspections and recommendations