16 January, 2014The case of Indian cement workers in the facilities of Swiss based multinational giant Holcim in Chhattisgarh has come to represent the worst trend of worker exploitation in the global supply chain. Permanent employees were shifted to contract status, paid poverty wages in a deadly environment and stripped of union rights. Now, on 8 January the leaders of the contract worker trade union PCSS, otherwise ignored by Holcim, were imprisoned on sham charges pressed by former company security officers.
The seven wrongfully imprisoned young activists are: Lakhan Sahu PCSS Organising Secretary, Yogesh Sahu, Dhannu Ram Patel, Bhagwat Sahu, Thanu Ram Patel, Lala Ram Dhruv and Dilharan Dhruv.
The young worker leaders had been central to organising the PCSS union from 2010, winning minimum wages and other basic employment conditions. The PCSS also represented and supported the local communities around the Ambuja factory, suffering poisoned water supply and forced displacement.
The case against union leaders Bhagwati Sahu and Lakhan Sahu is derisory. They are accused of stealing a mobile phone from company security officer Nand Lal Choubey, on a day they are proven to have been in another region.
The PCSS represents contract workers at the two plants and Holcim is the largest cement producer in India. Contract workers are protected by Indian law and by a sectoral agreement prohibiting employment in core production work, with all work paid at the same rate that permanent workers receive.
This stipulation has been flouted at Holcim India, where contract workers work side by side with permanent workers in core production, and they are denied proper protective equipment and paid one-third that of permanent workers.
IndustriALL has supported its affiliates’ demands on Holcim to reengage in the national bargaining process for the cement industry in India. A reengagement in the national industry agreement negotiations would increase protection for contract workers especially.
IndustriALL continues to support its affiliate PCSS through proceedings chaired by the National Contact Point of the OECD in Switzerland dealing with the trade union complaint on breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises at Holcim India.
IndustriALL’s Swiss affiliate UNIA’s coordinator of the Holcim European Works Council, Rolf Beyeler, reports on the company’s damaging restructuring programme in Europe throughout which the trade unions have been ignored:
For years already, Holcim’s central management for Europe has continuously disregarded the rights of the Holcim European Forum, its European Works Council (EWC). The latest example is Holcim’s intended deal with the other big player on the international cement market, the Mexican Cemex. Holcim leaves the control over its plants in Spain to Cemex while Cemex delivers its plants in North Rhine-Westphalia to Holcim. There can be no doubt about the transnational character of this deal that concerns the rights and jobs of several hundred employees in Spain and Germany. Nevertheless Holcim informed the EWC the night before its press release and disregarded the EWC’s right to be consulted about this issue. This was the last and probably most serious violation of the EWC’s rights and forced the EWC to take legal proceedings and to terminate the existing EWC-agreement with Holcim’s management.
The European restructuring programme has cost 1,600 jobs since 2011 and closed sites and restructurings in Spain, UK, Hungary, France, Belgium, and Switzerland.