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Cement unions in India commit to improve occupational health and safety

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31 July, 2019Cement sector union representatives from different parts of India gathered at Chennai on 29-30 July 2019 to take stock and improve occupational health and safety (OHS) initiatives, social dialogue and union power.

Trade union representatives reported that despite improvements in OHS in the cement industry and periodic health check-ups in many places, most of the workforce in the industry is not provided with comprehensive safety training.

As a result, a large number of cement industry workers are not aware of the occupational hazards they face due to their exposure to crystalline dust, alternative fuels, heat, heavy burdens, shift work and more.

The network paid special attention to the continuous use of asbestos in India despite its mining ban in 2011. Workers in the cement and other sectors remain exposed to this deadly substance, a situation which many define as a time bomb ready to explode at any moment.

Union representatives highlighted that while fatal and near fatal accidents attract more attention, a large number of occupational illnesses including musculoskeletal, respiratory, skin and circulatory diseases, are often not even recognized as occupational diseases, resulting in a lack of appropriate medical treatment and compensation for victims.

The enormous presence of precarious workers with poor working conditions and lack of social protection continues to pose major challenges in improving OHS. In recent times, almost all fatal accidents in the Indian cement industry have involved precarious workers.

Alexander Ivanou, IndustriALL materials officer said that,

“Indian cement industry employers have the responsibility to cooperate with unions on improving OHS at workplaces. Employers must recognize workers’ right to know hazards involved at work, participate in the decision-making process on OHS issues and refuse work or shutdown with no repercussions for them. A system of effective social dialogue with unions’ participation is the only possible way to improve workers’ safety and protect their health and life in India.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, regional secretary of IndustriALL said,

“It is encouraging to see that due to our continuous engagement, trade unions have increased their attention to OHS issues and in many cases designated OHS union representatives and taken initiatives to form OHS committees in their workplaces. Our efforts to support and build IndustriALL affiliates’ capacity will continue”.

Trade union representatives resolved to intensify their focus on OHS issues, form and improve OHS committees, strengthen the capacity of union members, involve precarious workers in OHS training and organize periodic medical camps. They called for training by IndustriALL in international OHS best practice in the cement industry.

Union representatives continue working on enhanced union membership and regularization of precarious workers. They committed to putting more effort into organizing, solidarity support to precarious workers and improved participation of women and youth in union work.

The workshop also discussed sustainability challenges faced by the cement industry due to climate change and rapid technological transformation, often defined as Industry 4.0. The unions underlined the need to build union power to defend workers’ rights.

Initiatives towards strengthening social dialogue and building union networks in companies such as LafargeHolcim, HeidelbergCement, CRH, Cemex and others were also discussed.

The two-days workshop was organized under the IndustriALL South Asia union building and multinational companies supply chain project.