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Unions call for social dialogue in HeidelbergCement

20 October, 2021The impact of Covid on the cement industry, health and safety, clean technology and workers’ rights were among the issues discussed with more than 70 trade unionists from 20 countries who met online for the joint IndustriALL, BWI and EFBWW HeidelbergCement global union network meeting. The meeting was organized with support of Friedrich Ebert foundation.

IndustriALL Global Union, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), all of which are organizing workers employed by the German-based cement giant, took the opportunity to strategize for the future on 13 and 14 of October.

The network adopted a joint statement demanding genuine progress in improving the quality of social dialogue. Among other things, the statement calls for HeidelbergCement to:

  • Eliminate the abuse of subcontracted and third-party workers
  • Engage in negotiations on a global framework agreement 
  • Launch a joint mechanism ensuring that workers’ rights are respected and working conditions are improved
  • Improve workers’ participation and provide respect for trade union rights and the right to representation and organizing, with a particular focus on workers’ participation in health and safety
  • Include a social dimension in its policies on the reduction of CO2 emissions, climate change protection and digitalisation affecting their employees and subcontracted workers.
  • Launch consultation with unions on Just Transition
  • Sign a joint Declaration on OHS with BWI, IndustriALL Global Union and EFBWW

A solidarity statement was passed in support of more than 150 Teamsters Ready Mix workers in the United States who are demanding to address health and safety issues and stop violating federal labour laws.

Michael Walker, member of Teamsters Local 174 in Seattle explained that despite its record profits, the company did not offer decent increases and even denied full medical coverage to a group of 300 workers after the expiration of their CBA. “This is my fifth time I was in a bargaining table, I’ve never seen anything like this, they want us to strike now,” said Walker.

In HeidelbergCement's operations this year, fifteen people have lost their lives due to COVID-19 despite the company’s introduction of a “zero harm” programme. This year three subcontracted workers have been killed at work in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Bangladesh.

In addition, the deterioration of social dialogue made negotiations more difficult and unions mobilised in various countries.

The challenge for the industry to reduce carbon emissions was also widely deliberated in the meeting. HeidelbergCement needs a roadmap to move from fossil fuel to renewable energy and the implementation of new industrial technologies, and participants stressed that workers’ involvement is crucial to secure a Just Transition.

Tom Deleu, EFBWW General secretary

Tom Deleu, EFBWW General secretary said,

"Climate change is an existential threat to human kind. EFBWW supports green transitionand HeidelbergCement commitment to decrease their carbon emissions because there is no jobs on a dead planet, but just transition and worker engagement at all levels of this process is essential.”

Colleagues from Africa and Asia reported that the company is excessively resorting to non-standard employment schemes, which  undermined  work and pay conditions. They said that workers affected by these schemes, are the same workers whose jobs and incomes were ravaged by the pandemic.

Gavor Kodjo general secretary of the Federation of Wood and Construction Workers (FTBC) thanked BWI and union representatives in Germany for helping his union raise their issues at the CIMTOGO (HeidelbergCement) to the company’s top management in Germany. The Union stressed that CIMTOGO's contractors have repeatedly violated workers' rights and failed to secure healthy and safe working environments. He also mentioned issues like the non-declaration of work-related accidents, non-issue of pay slips to workers and poor hygiene standards.

BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson

For BWI general secretary Ambet Yuson:

"Amidst the pandemic, HeidelbergCement continued to reap profits and paid huge dividends and bonuses, while their workers live in constant fear of losing their jobs. Today, it missed an opportunity to meet with union leaders urging for social dialogue."

Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary

Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, commented,

“HeidelbergCement must become a socially responsible company and engage in genuine dialogue with our three organisations. We see a series problems related to health and safety, workers’ rights violations, reluctance of bargaining in good faith and other.”