LafargeHolcim unions pledge to intensify campaign for labour rights
The LafargeHolcim World Union Council, a gathering of all trade unions working at the cement giant, called on the multinational company to respect workers' rights, protect jobs, ensure workers' health and safety at work, and drastically reduce precarious work.
The demand was made at the conclusion of its two-day online meeting last 9-10 March, where more than 110 participants from 50 unions and 42 countries discussed union strategies on how to address LafargeHolcim’s bad labour practices.
In a statement, the World Union Council of LafargeHolcim expressed its solidarity to all the workers and unions at LafargeHolcim’s operations worldwide.
It demanded the company to:
- Stop violations of fundamental workers' rights in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Mauritius, Jordan and Uganda
- Eliminate the abuse of subcontracted and third-party workers
- Fully respect collective bargaining agreements, national laws, and public authorities' recommendations
- Recognise the right of workers to a healthy and safe work place as a fundamental right and put zero fatalities target as a top priority
- Strengthen industrial relations and consultation with unions on mitigating the impact of Covid-19
In order to put pressure on LafargeHolcim to respect workers’ rights, the network decided on an action plan to strengthen its campaign. This includes pushing for a global framework agreement and mobilising for a global day of action to engage with the company’s investors ahead of its annual general meeting on 4 May.
“LafargeHolcim must recognise unions, so we must be on the offensive and put pressure on the company,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson.
In 2020, five workers at LafargeHolcim's operations lost their lives at work, with four of them employed by subcontractors. The unions said that the deaths were unnecessary and totally preventable. They also said that workers are being exposed to dangerous working conditions, subjected to excessive working hours and deprived of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary said: “An important role for this union network is to speak up and demand our rights. And we demand respect for fundamental workers’ rights, including health and safety where LafargeHolcim has a bad track record.”
Tom Deleu, European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) General Secretary stressed: “The EFBWW supports the European Union environmental transition, provided that it is fair, people-focused and inclusive. Cement companies, like LafargeHolcim, must consider their environmental and social responsibilities in and outside the EU. The trade union movement must remain in regular contact and firm in its message, not tolerating any social or environmental damage.”
Participants of the online meeting took to the floor to report on the situation of LafargeHolcim workers in their respective countries. They collectively stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health problem but also an economic crisis, hitting workers hard.
At the HIMA Cement (LH) in Uganda, it was reported that workers were deprived of PPE and have been forced to eat and sleep at work for up to two weeks. Labour subcontracting also increased by 90 percent over the last three years, with workers receiving very low wages. Newly employed workers do not receive permanent contracts.
This is not an isolated incident. In the last five years, LafargeHolcim has reduced its number of employees by 33,547, while increasing labour subcontracting. At many operations, outsourced labour represents the vast majority of the company’s workforce.
In Jordan, LafargeHolcim has tampered with local agreements and refused to pay pension funds. Meanwhile, in Brazil, while sales were surprisingly high during the pandemic (7 percent increase) in several cement plants, there is no collective agreement for wage increases. Worse, salaries were slashed by 75 percent, and in 2021, by another 50 percent. When workers returned to work despite the pandemic, the company paid them less.
LafargeHolcim is reportedly concentrating on a smaller number of markets to improve margins and profits and to maximise production. At the same time, it is significantly reducing its investments. Selling its assets has changed the geography of the company. In North America and Europe alone, majority of its assets were sold outside of the region. As a result, from a 55 percent sale in 2020, it dropped to 45 percent for this year.
Pierre Cuppens, General Secretary of ACV BIE, Belgium and Chair of the BWI Global Cement Network highlighted: “It is a pleasure to see the strong commitment of all members of the LafargeHolcim World Union Council working together with one voice with the aim to put pressure on the Group to respect workers’ rights. We request LafargeHolcim to engage in genuine social dialogue and sign an International Framework Agreement.”