A contract worker lost his life in an accident on 27 January 2018 in the Chandrapur district, at the Maratha Cement Works plant of Ambuja Cement Ltd, owned by the cement giant LafargeHolcim. The company is yet to release the fatality figures for 2017, but in 2016, 86 workers were killed at LafargeHolcim operations worldwide.
On the morning of 27 January, an apparent electrical problem in the wagon loading machine at Ambuja’s Maratha Cement Works plant resulted in a fatal accident claiming the life of contract worker Arun Singh, aged 32, married with two children aged eight and ten years old.
Tragically, the technical problem in the machine was reported a few days before the accident and after some repairs on 25 January, reported as cleared by the company. Workers at the packing plant were directed to resume working with the machine. However, on the morning of 27 January, a massive vibration erupted in the machine, caused by electrical malfunction, leading to the fatal accident in which Mr Singh was crushed between the machine and the wagon.
Immediately after the accident, agitated workers held a protest at the factory gate demanding that management punish those responsible and provide appropriate compensation to Mr Singh’s family.
Workers are subject to bullying, threats and intimidation at the plant. One of the workers reports that “workers are forced to work in unsafe working conditions and are putting their lives in danger. When workers die, a few hundred thousand rupees are provided as compensation and we are asked to keep quiet with the money we receive. Workers’ families face a terrible situation. Will any money compensate us for our loss? Tomorrow we all will face a similar situation.”
Vijay Thakre, representative of the workers’ union Maratha Cement Works Kamgar Sanghatana, an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union through the Indian National Cement Workers' Federation said:
“We are deeply saddened by this accident. It reflects the failure of safety policies and negligence at the Ambuja Cement Ltd. In a way the company’s attempts to reduce the workforce is leading to more workload on the existing workers across the departments and the company has to reconsider its policy and follow strict safety norms.”
Valter Sanches, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union said:
“We are pained to see that negligence of safety procedures at Ambuja cement plants continues to claim workers’ lives. In a recent communication to us global management referred to health and safety in their operations, as “a matter of the highest priority for the company”. However, earlier, in September 2017, two workers were killed in another horrific accident at a LafargeHolcim plant in Chhattisgarh. The company should take safety issues seriously and work in coordination with workers, including contract workers to improve the safety practices in its plants.
“Earlier we approached and agreed with LafargeHolcim management to work on a global and local level within a negotiated Global Framework Agreement, an integral part of which would address health and safety issues. However, at the very last moment LafargeHolcim broke their promise to enter into a Global Framework Agreement with IndustriALL Global Union and Building and Wood Workers’ International, which we interpret as a symptom of an attitude of unwillingness to work together to solve safety issues."
Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of Building and Wood Workers International said:
“It’s time for LafargeHolcim to clean up their act. Empty rhetoric and ineffective rules on health and safety are wholly inadequate to prevent accidents and ill health in the company. There is clearly a serious and widespread problem with the number, selection and management of contractors in LafargeHolcim.
Prevention of accidents and ill health is seriously undermined by the abuse of outsourcing in the company and its refusal to take responsibility for bad working conditions.
“Trade unions have the capacity to help the company but their expertise is being frozen out because unions challenge their exploitative employment policies and labour practices. They must exercise due diligence and start putting people before profits.”
On 30 January, just few days after the killing of the contract worker Arun Singh at LafargeHolcim another similar incident happened again at the same factory. According to the union representative Vijay Thakre this time fortunately no worker was injured, but the incident poses serious doubts about effectiveness of health and safety policies of the company .