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South East Asia cement workers prioritize organizing

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9 June, 2021Around 35 cement sector union leaders  from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam met online to discuss challenges faced in the industry.

Although the impact of pandemic on employment has not been so severe  in the industry across the sub-region, cement sector unions continue to  fight for better working conditions, with a particular on health and safety through healthcare protocols to protect workers’ lives.

In the Philippines during the first few months of pandemic, workers faced with a decline in working hours. The fact that construction sector remained stable thanks to  state support, cement plants have kept running during the crisis. Philippine cement workers  demand employers to extend paid quarantine leave from 14 to 28 days.  Unions have negotiated with employers to include occupational disease and workers’ benefits in the next collective agreement.

The situation in Indonesia’s cement industry remains worrisome. An oversupply of cement products flooding the national market is the result of unfair trade, particularly from China. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Federation of Indonesian Cement Workers' Union (FSP ISI) has called on the government to save the national industry from global overcapacity in order to protect  jobs. FSP ISI has urged the government to impose a moratorium on national cement production at 42 million tonnes to cut inefficiency. IndustriALL has expressed its solidarity with FSP ISI in demanding sustainable cement industry in Indonesia.

Cement workers in Thailand are facing the challenge of restructuring, which will result in a decrease of permanent workers and an increase of contract workers. In an effort to increase power, cement unions planned to merge  under a single, stronger and sustainable union, for which a procedure so far has been postponed due to  the pandemic.

The Vietnamese unions reported  that the government supported cement plants during the pandemic, allowing nearly all of them to function without disruption.

Lena Yuliana, FSP ISI and co-chair of IndustriALL materials sector, reported on difficulties faced  by women in union activities. There is a traditionally low presence of women in the industry due to a lack of equal opportunities between  women and men.

“Our unions should put a lot more efforts in women organizing,” said Yuliana.

Annie Adviento, IndustriALL regional secretary said:

“The cement industry is an important sector of the economy in South East Asia, facing a lot of challenges aggravated by Covid-19. It is important that all actors in the sector must work together to ensure that the industry remains sustainable with workers’ rights and entitlements guaranteed.”

Alexander Ivanou, IndustriALL materials officer, said:

“The meeting has been an important opportunity for the affiliates to discus current challenges in bargaining, organizing and women representation in the cement industry in South East Asia. This has given  a clear direction about what IndustriALL  should focus for further actions in the sub-region.”