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South East Asia cement unions call for sustainable future

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19 July, 2018Trade union representatives from cement unions in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines came together in Padang, Indonesia on 16 and 17 July - on the eve of the fifth Congress of Indonesian cement union FSP-ISI, held on the 18th and 19th – to reinforce their networking.

The 35 trade union representatives compared their economic situation, built their network and developed joint strategies to strengthen workers’ voices. They shared that the Indonesian cement industry is characterized by oversupply: although the market shows annual growth of up to 6 per cent, margins and profits decline due to rapid expansion and aggressive market entrance of new competitors.

The situation is different in the Philippines, where an infrastructure investment boom soaks up supply. Thailand is between these two markets. Although the economic backdrop is different, all workers and their unions share some similar interests and face some joint challenges.

They discussed three burning issues in the cement industry:

  1. Carbon dioxide emissions and possible reduction (i.e. use of alternative fuels)
  2. Sustainable industrial policy in the face of economic challenges and digitalization
  3. Health and Safety and fair share of workers in wealth, also for precarious workers

The participants developed and adopted action plans, with concrete organizing and recruiting goals for each union. They also held dialogue with global and local management. HeidelbergCement reaffirmed the freedom of association for white collar workers as well, while LafargeHolcim was not able to respond to the rumours of a divestment from their Indonesian operations.

Although cement is a male-dominated industry, there was broad participation by women, who made up almost 40 per cent of participants.

Regional office secretary Annie Adviento summarized the meeting:

“Change in the cement sector is inevitable. As IndustriALL, we will work hard with our affiliates to ensure that these changes bring improvement to workplace conditions and that workers’ rights are duly respected. Building union power is a key element in the process.”

Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for the materials industries, added:

“As there will be nine billion people living on our planet in 2050, it is crucial that the supply of cement is created sustainably, with low-emissions. Cement cannot be substituted, so everything depends on how it is produced.

“Respect for the environment, for economic needs and for workers in the industry is key. Cement is the future, cement is sustainable industrial production if workers and their trade unions are respected. We are willing and able to contribute.”

Directly after the cement network meeting, the FSP-ISI opened their fifth congress, with over 100 Indonesian delegates and guests from the employers’ association, government and cement company representatives. FSP-ISI president Widjayadi stated in his opening:

“The cement industry in Indonesia will not survive with “cheap-cement” or “wage dumping” strategy. Sustainable cement production requires joint efforts from government, employers and trade unions: FSP-ISI is open to dialogue for the sake of the cement workers and their industry.”

KSPI president Said Iqbal said in his opening speech:

“Why can only the rich send their children to the best universities in Indonesia? Indonesia is among the G20 economies in the world, in Asia only China and Japan are stronger economies. At the same time our average wage is lower than in Vietnam. This will not do, and we will fight for justice and better working conditions! We fight for decent wages!”