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Workers denounce anti-trade union practices at Gerdau steel plants

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3 June, 2016The Gerdau World Workers’ Council met in Montevideo, Uruguay from 16-18 May to address the global steel crisis and anti-trade union practices at Gerdau, which is the biggest producer of long steel in the Americas.

The Council assessed the situation of the Brazilian company’s employees at its plants throughout the world; approved an action plan; and held a demonstration at one of the company’s factories.

Trade union representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Spain, the United States, Peru and Uruguay attended the meeting. Assistant general secretary, Fernando Lopes; regional secretary, Jorge Almeida, IndustriALL regional secretary; and assistant regional secretary, Marino Vani, represented IndustriALL Global Union at the meeting.

Each representative gave an update on the situation at the company in their country. There were a lot of points in common and participants agreed that the network should formulate joint strategies. At all plants, the company uses the law, tax regulations and its own internal rules for its own benefit. Investments focus on reducing labour (size of workforce) and energy costs and promoting the company’s anti-trade union strategy.

Gerdau, which employs more than 45,000 people in 14 countries, has a policy of discouraging trade union organization. When it is obliged to deal with unions, it tries to reduce wages and benefits or amend agreements. It also encourages so-called yellow unions to replace representative unions or stop workers from forming genuine unions.

"Gerdau does not respect workers' rights in many countries, especially in Latin America. It is therefore essential to create a constant flow of information between us to organize joint action," said Anderson Gauer, coordinator of the trade union network of Gerdau employees in Brazil.

The meeting approved the text of a document detailing Gerdau’s anti-trade union practices, proposals for the steel sector and information on the situation of workers at all the company’s factories. The document in question will be submitted to the governments of all Mercosur countries.

Participants met the Uruguayan labour minister, Ernesto Murro, and asked him to introduce measures to protect national industry and allow Gerdau workers to be represented by independent trade unions. The Council asked the minister to approach the company about organizing a visit to a Gerdau plant in the country but the company rejected this request.

The Council therefore organized a demonstration at the factory gates to communicate its support for Gerdau workers in Uruguay, who are currently fighting to be represented by an independent trade union. The demonstration showed the growing unity and solidarity between workers at the international level.

IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary, Fernando Lopes said:

“The meeting and associated activities in Montevideo strengthened the Gerdau World Workers’ Council in our fight for better working conditions and freedom of association. We came away full of enthusiasm for implementing the action plan approved by the meeting and we thank our Uruguayan colleagues for the excellent organization of the meeting.”