BWI mourns passing of Roel de Vries, former IFBWW President

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) is deeply saddened over the passing of former International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW) President Roel de Vries on 18 August 2021 in Ijsselstein, Netherlands. He had been ill for many weeks leading to the gradual deterioration of his health. 

BWI lost one of its prominent leaders, who was a strong advocate for the rights of workers, including their families and children. Roel was one of BWI’s founding members, following the merger of IFBWW and WFBW. While the merger concluded his presidency of IFBWW, Roel warmly welcomed the extraordinary working-class unity, describing it as one of the highlights and great moments of his life. 

Roel later involved himself in the promotion of child rights. He founded the Child Learn, a non-profit organisation that focuses on children forced to work long hours in India’s stone quarries. He travelled to project areas in India and remained closely connected with trade unions, especially those involved in addressing the issue of child labour. He developed a personal rapport and connection with teachers, children, organisers and office bearers at a number of locations. Through his efforts, Child Learn has successfully pulled out more than 12,000 children from exploitative labour conditions and brought them back to schools. 

Roel was a true-blue trade unionist. he started his career as a carpenter in his twenties during the 1960s. He was immediately drawn to trade union work and played an active role in the youth network in his hometown of Steenwijk. In 1967, owing to his commitment and dedication to union work, he was employed by his union. He held a number of positions during his long trade union career, first as financial officer of the local branch in Amsterdam, then as a local trade union official in Zwolle. He also became a district trade union official in Goes, elected to the union board in 1980 and Vice-President in 1986, and in 1993, he became President of the FNV Bouw. His relentless work and commitment to the cause of trade unions and workers’ rights worldwide saw him elected as IFBWW President in 1997. He held that position for two terms. 

BWI and its Presidium condole with Roel’s family, comrades and friends, including the people running the Child Labour Schools, who upon hearing his passing held prayer meetings to celebrate his life and offer their sincere condolences and hope for strength to his family. 

BWI honours Roel de Vries’ remarkable contribution to the international trade union movement and promotion of working-class solidarity worldwide. Roel’s legacy shall live on through the thousands of lives he touched with his untiring work and dedication as a trade unionist and a child rights advocate. 

*There will be a memorial meeting on 23 August 2021, Monday at the cremation centre in Noordveld, structurrbaan 1, Nieuwegein. On Tuesday, a farewell gathering is scheduled for close family and friends. Messages of condolences can be done at