Africa and Middle East: Multinational cement giants continue subcontracting amidst pandemic

Multinational cement giant LafargeHolcim and HeidelbergCement persist with their labour subcontracting schemes in Africa and the Middle East amidst a pandemic that continues to destroy millions of jobs and incomes worldwide. 

Addressing a Regional Cement Network online meeting last July, BWI Africa and Middle East Regional Executive Committee (AFRECO) President Abdel Monem Elgamal said that the cement companies in the region have intensified their attacks against regular jobs and trade unionism by retrenching permanent workers, many of whom are unionists.  He also said that the companies also shifted gears in their employment systems by favoruing labour subcontracting. 

In Uganda, the BWI-affiliated UBCCECAWU received a letter from the management of Hima Cement, which is associated with Lafargeholcim Group, notifying the redundancy of 18 trade unionists, including chief shop steward Joel Ondoma. The company argued that the increasing automation and cost of production are the main reasons for dismissing the said workers. 

The same situation has been observed in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt where LafargeHolcim is operating. The company is using COVID-19 as a pretext to reduce workers’ benefits and undermine the terms of their employment.

In Mauritius, labour casualisation in the cement industry has affected 25 percent of its workers. It was reported that employers are trying to deprive workers of their CBA benefits, which is contrary to the country’s National Labour Act which took effect January of last year.  

Meanwhile, In Togo, BWI-affiliated FTBC expressed its concern over the health and safety conditions of workers employed at HeidelbergCement’s sub-contracting companies, which as of the last count have more than 200 workers working without any clear employment contracts.

Elgamal said that cement trade unions need to launch a “new industrial revolution” to respond to the attacks against trade unionism and regular employment. “The Regional Cement Network has been extremely effective in this pandemic in helping workers fight for their rights. We invite more unions to join us keep in the fight for better working and living conditions. The pandemic will not dampen our fighting spirit,” he said. 

Aside from LafargeHolcim, HeidelbergCement, the region’s cement industry is also dominated by Dangote Cement and several Chinese and Indian-controlled multinational cement firms.