Cement unions in India commit to strong organizing drive

26.02.2019

Over 30 Indian cement sector representatives of IndustriALL affiliates across India gathered in Delhi on 21-22 February and committed to improve social dialogue, union organizing and recruiting initiatives.

All trade unions present also decided jointly to fight precarious work, improve women workers’ situation and fight for better occupational safety and health (OSH) in India’s cement companies.

Participating IndustriALL cement sector affiliates, Indian Cement Workers’ Federation, All India Cement Employees Federation and Pragatisheel Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh (PCSS) expressed serious concern over a cement corporates’ general tendency to reduce manpower, which sidelined with rampant use of precarious work creates a hurdle for union organizing in the cement sector in India. Often, permanent workers are directly replaced by contractors, hence initiating a “race to the bottom” when it comes to working conditions, health and safety and wages. Generally spoken, contract or precarious workers suffer low wages, poor working conditions, lack of job security and social protection.

Lack of appropriate safety and health measures continues to cause injuries and claim workers lives in the cement sector. Deployment of contract workers and trainees without proper personal protection equipment and training, in critical areas of production, results in multiple near misses and fatal accidents. Corporates and governments continue to ignore impacts of occupational disease in the cement industry. Unions underlined that no top down approach is acceptable on OSH issues. Workers have the right to know, right to refuse unsafe work and the right to be involved in decision-making process to stop accidents and improve the OSH situation.

The affiliates provided a lot of cases of extending solidarity to contract workers. They highlighted their experiences of unionizing contract workers, pressuring the management to successfully regularizing them, winning wage increases and improving their working conditions. They also noted another positive sign of an  increasing number of women participating in union activities.

The three affiliates will do all they can to increase union membership particularly of women, youth and precarious workers. These especially vulnerable workers will also become represented in union leadership structures. The unions also committed to start a campaign on OSH issues and intensify their engagement with the employer to minimize accidents and address occupational diseases in the cement sector. More specifically, unions decided to appoint a dedicated union officer to engage on OSH issues in every plant/unit.

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for mechanical engineering and materials industries sector said, “Social dialogue in the cement sector on global and regional level remains our goal, but in order to get employers to the table, it is important that our affiliates increase their membership and organizing power. Especially women, youth and precarious workers must be integrated in our structures. Also, addressing health and safety issues will strengthen the union power to effectively defend workers’ rights in the cement sector.”

Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary said that, “I see significant progress made by our affiliates in improving union membership and extending solidarity support to precarious workers. Increased union membership with the inclusion of women and youth membership and creating awareness on OSH issues will strengthen the voice of all cement workers in India.”