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Organizing cement workers during challenging economic times in Asia Pacific

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4 October, 2023Cement sector unions in the Asia Pacific region commit to organizing more cement workers amid global economic slowdown, decreasing production and climate change.  

Climate change, geopolitical challenges and post-Covid economic slowdown severely affects the cement industry where an overcapacity problem remains a global concern, with 43 percent of cement globally produced by top ten cement companies. IndustriALL director of materials industries Alexander Ivanou pointed out that there is limited union representation and challenges in forming trade unions in the cement sector.

“Effective organizing is now more crucial than ever before. The greater our numbers, the stronger our collective strength becomes, enhancing our ability to negotiate and fight for rights.”

Said Alexander Ivanou during an IndustriALL South East Asia virtual cement union network meeting held on 26 September. 

Trade union leaders from Indonesia and Philippines shared key factors that hindered the organizing efforts.

Agus Sarjanto, the secretary general of Federation of Indonesian Cement Workers' Union (FSP ISI), said: 

“The implementation of the Omnibus Law in Indonesia has led to expansion of contract work in all sectors, which previously limited to five sectors. As a result, we have fewer union members, and the employers are trying to weaken the collective agreements.”

“In the Philippines, widespread use of contract labour in the cement sector is alarming. More and more workers are hired by labour agencies and union membership is on a declining trend. We are working hard to retain the current membership.”

Said Joseph Cesar Aguanta, the Associated Labor Union representative.

The participants shared their experiences about the global effort in combating climate change and installation of carbon capture and storage facilities to alleviate global warming. This is one of the key elements defined by the leading cement companies on the way to decarbonize the industry. However, it is happening very slowly, and price is barely affordable for lower income countries. 

Governments try to change the situation by stimulating companies to act. For example, the Indonesian government introduced a carbon tax policy in 2021 with a price tag of 30 Indonesian rupiah ($0.002) per kilogram of carbon dioxide. 

In other cases, companies are forced to take steps in response to increased energy prices for traditional fossil fuels. Cement companies in Thailand have installed solar cell panels as an alternative to fossil fuel, a reaction after the fuel price hike. 

The Japanese government aims to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, the Taiheiyo Cement Labor Union is proposing government agencies to take innovative measures to accelerate the decarbonization effort.

Thirty-five unionists from Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, and Thailand participated in this virtual meeting.