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India: fighting precarious work in the cement industry

8 July, 2015On 1 July a rally was organized by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate “Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh” (Progressive Cement Workers Union) or PCSS for the redeployment and rehabilitation of more than 1000 cement workers in India.

PCSS, is a union of contract workers in the mineral-rich region of Chhattisgarh Province of India. In Chhattisgarh, cement giants Holcim and Lafarge have two plants each, and equal numbers of captive limestone mines. Presently, at the ACC plant at Jamul, where Holcim has invested millions of dollars, the plant is undergoing expansion into a huge state of the art facility.

PCSS has been struggling for the past 25 years to implement the Cement Wage Board Award in two plants of ACC and Ambuja. This Award, which has applicability in the entire cement industry in India, holds that there will be no contract labour employed in the cement production process except in the loading-unloading and packing sections. It also states that all labour should be paid at the Cement Wage Board rate, which is about three times the present paltry minimum wages (less than 4 euros a day).

PCSS has not only struggled in both the streets and the courts to win several orders in its favour, but it has a vigorous democratic tradition of mass participation and has close relations with families of workers.

PCSS raises the issues of working class women and also affected farming communities. The union has been demanding permanent jobs for farmers who have lost land to the cement plants; fighting effects of blasting from mining in close proximity to village communities; and also encroachment of village commons by the cement plants. The union also runs a primary school for workers’ children.

As an affiliate of IndustriALL, PCSS was able to raise the issues of the contract workers of Holcim and the communities affected to the Swiss OECD National Contact Point in Bern, through a complaint over breach of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Companies. Unfortunately Holcim’s attitude continues to be arrogant in practical terms. Today the biggest struggle of PCSS is the issue of redeployment and rehabilitation of more than 1000 contract workers, who have been working for decades in the old ACC Jamul plant and have court orders of regularization in their favour, yet these workers face the threat of retrenchment with the commissioning of the new expansion plant.

“Precarious Work is at present one of the greatest challenges before trade unions today, unless there is job security for workers, society cannot progress. IndustriALL is committed to fighting precarity and stands with PCSS in its struggle,” said Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia Regional Secretary.