Unions participating in a global trade union network meeting repeat demand for improved health and safety at Gerdau after hearing reports on the company's policy to hide accidents through the return of workers even before they are able to do their jobs.
SPAIN/GLOBAL: The 4th international meeting of the Gerdau Workers' World Council took place in Bilbao and Reinosa in Spain from October 5 to 7, 2010. Trade unions participating in the meeting, held in the cities where the two largest plants of Gerdau are located in Spain, used the occasion to bring to the local governments' attention misleading social responsibility practices of the company.
The Council showed the local governments how Gerdau utilizes its large resources to improve its image, replacing the functions of the state, and, later recovers its investments by paying fewer taxes. The mayors of the two cities were interested in these initiatives and, in particular, the mayor of Reinosa, José Miguel Barrio, said that, "Gerdau is the owner at this point in time" but the plant "belongs to all of us because many generations of our families have been working to make this plant successful."
The Council discussed again the health and safety policies of Gerdau, especially after the death of a worker in a workplace accident in Basauri on September 5, 2010. In particular, all the participants shared stories of how Gerdau hides accidents by getting people back to work even when they are still unable to do their jobs. Gerdau will only count as an accident an event in the workplace when workers cannot go back to the workplace, and outsourced workers are not included in Gerdau's statistics even when victim to an accident in a Gerdau plant. Many stories were shared in which workers will be asked to go back to the workplace and sit in a room or walk around without doing any particular task.
The company's goal is to say "there is no accident here because the worker is back in the workplace". The Council saw the trick in action during a visit to the Gerdau plant in Reinosa. At the entrance of the machining shop there is big sign saying "Two years without an accident with time lost". Clearly, the sign did not say how many accidents had occurred without lost time during those two years.
The Council sent a letter to Andre Gerdau Johanpeter, CEO of the Gerdau Group, with the following demands:
- Negotiated solutions in Yumbo and Duitama, Colombia,
- To stop anti-union activities in the Dominican Republic,
- To accept the creation of a Joint International Health and Safety Committee,
- To recognize the Gerdau Workers' World Council, and
- To negotiate a framework agreement that regulates the relations between Gerdau and its unions.
The unions present at the meeting represent workers of Gerdau in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, United States, Peru and Spain. Fernando Lopes, IMF assistant general secretary, also participated in the meeting.
At the meeting participants also discussed and approved an action plan for the next year and decided that the next meeting of the Council will be in Colombia.