Global unions call on Holcim shareholders to prioritise health and safety and workers’ rights
Trade unions on 4 May held a protest action before Holcim’s Headquarters in Zug, Switzerland on the occasion of the multinational cement giant’s Annual General Meeting. The protest action led by the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), IndustriALL Global Union and the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) called on Holcim to respect worker’s rights, follow international health and safety standards in all of its operations, and sincerely engage in a global social dialogue. They asserted that Holcim’s growing use of sub-contractors undermines the company’s ambition of a zero-harm target.
In a joint statement, the global unions urged Holcim to engage in genuine social dialogue at all levels. BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said that they have repeatedly called on Holcim to engage with unions, asserting that truly safe workplaces can only be obtained through the participation of workers. “No further delay is acceptable to recognise occupational health and safety as a fundamental worker’s right,” Yuson said.
This was seconded by EFBWW General Secretary Tom Deleu. “It is Holcim’s directly employed and thousands of sub-contracted workers who create the company’s profits and future development – they deserve to be respected and included in the process of transformation,” Deleu said.
For his part, IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Christine Olivier said that Holcim shareholders cannot stay indifferent to how their money is invested. “The company claims to conduct business with integrity, but our members tell a different story. Our recent World Union Council of Holcim, a forum for workers’ representatives from all over the world, urged Holcim to engage in genuine social dialogue with BWI and IndustriALL,” he said.
Meanwhile, Adrian Loader, member of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Health, Safety & Sustainability Committee of Holcim did not stand for re-election in the said general meeting. This was after BWI, in a letter submitted to the Annual General Meeting, said that the responsibility over the failure to commit on important workers’ issues lays with Loader. It called on shareholders to consider how to ensure that they can be certain that mitigating and remedying actions are taken by the Committee.
The global unions said that Holcim continues to violate health and safety standards, reporting that more than 200 workers have been killed since the merger of Lafarge and Holcim in 2015. In January alone of this year, three workers died and eight were critically injured in a fire at Hima Cement, a Holcim subsidiary in Uganda. All workers were employed by a sub-contractor. Since that accident, the Hima Cement Plant Manager, and Industrial Director is no longer part of the company’s management.
They also said that workers in Holcim’s cement plants are continuously exposed to dangerous working conditions, excessive working hours, lack of personal protective equipment and unpaid leave. In Asia alone, they said that more than 80 percent of the workers remain without direct and permanent contracts despite Holcim’s increasing production capacity. Holcim has cut its own and direct employment from 135, 000 to less than 68, 000 workers, since 2015.
Pierre Cuppens, BWI Chair of the Cement and Building Materials Network, called on Holcim's shareholders to keep the company on the right track and deliver on its promise to recognise the rights of its workers.
“The men and women who work every day for Holcim, expect the management to deliver on its promise and to honour its responsibility. It is the workers who make the dividend for the company’s shareholders possible. Thus, they should be treated fairly and decently. We expect from the shareholders that they will put the management on the right path,” Cuppens said.