25 October, 2018Around 60 representatives of the World Union Council from 26 countries came to Houffalize, Belgium on 22 to 24 October to discuss problems faced by workers and unions at multinational cement and construction materials company, LafargeHolcim.
The participants had a detailed exchange over challenges existing at national and international levels at LafargeHolcim, and expressed serious concerns at a lack of genuine social dialogue with the company after the changes in leadership in 2017 and 2018.
Trade union relations with LafargeHolcim went downhill at the end of 2017, when the new CEO reneged on a Memorandum of Understanding to sign a global framework agreement with IndustriALL Global Union and Building and Woodworkers International.
Meanwhile, rampant use of precarious work, namely outsourcing of up to 80 per cent in some sites, poses an enormous threat to workers’ rights and working conditions. LafargeHolcim proceeds with its policy of a shrinking business for the sake of increasing dividends paid to shareholders at the expense of workers creating all the company‘s wealth. Contract workers at LafargeHolcim are less qualified, have no access to training and promotion, and are not properly trained on health and safety. Consequently, three out of four victims of reported fatal accidents at work are contract workers.
The World Union Council issued a statement demanding that LafargeHolcim ends corporate greed and drastically reduces precarious work.
While welcoming the creation of a European Works Council inside the group, workers at the European level are worried their concerns are not being heard by top management. Moreover, participants reported cases of increased pressure on trade union activists from local management. Social dialogue and freedom of association are at risk, as several incidents show, such as in El Salvador.
Participants were able to pose all of these and many other questions to management representative Vincent Giard, head of labour relations and social policies at LafargeHolcim and Yonca Atac responsible for health and safety in Europe, who attended the second day of the meeting.
Pierre Cuppens,Vice-President of Building and Woodworkers International, said:
“This was a very useful meeting, especially because it was attended by management representatives. There is no reason for LafargeHolcim to stay away from a global framework agreement. We are on the same line on many issues, and I believe we need to continue our actions aimed at conclusion of such an agreement. We are willing to negotiate, but if the company continues rejecting it, we must be ready to exert our pressure on behalf of global union movement.”
Matthias Hartwich, director for materials industries in IndustriALL Global Union said,
“The group’s economic strategy is strange: more earnings with less assets and promises for increasing dividends for shareholders. The management is undermining LafargeHolcim’s industrial basis. At the same time, they talk of moving social dialogue to the national local level. We fully disagree with this approach as it will undermine good faith and fruitful dialogue in the future.”
Kemal Özkan, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, summarised the discussions:
“Through open discussions, fair exchange and concrete action plans, the World Union Committee of LafargeHolcim underlined important challenges in the operations of the company throughout the world, including violations of fundamental rights, lack of genuine social dialogue and excessive use of precarious work. We raised all these issues with representatives of the management. We want to resolve the problems through industrial relations mechanisms. We hope that LafargeHolcim management will reciprocate in a similar way. Otherwise we will continue to conduct our campaign for justice and fairness.”