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Workers urge HeidelbergCement to start a proper social dialogue

14 November, 2019Delegates from all over the world gathered near Frankfurt, Germany on 7 and 8 November 2019 to address issues at multinational building materials group HeidelbergCement over workers’ rights, health and safety and ongoing digitalization, and to develop a workers’ response.

The 26 participants from 14 countries representing HeidelbergCement workers across the world came to the Steinbach union training centre of the German construction union IG BAU at the invitation of IndustriALL Global Union and Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

The delegates discussed the overall situation in HeidelbergCement Group and in the cement and concrete production sector across the globe. The sector faces huge overcapacity in almost all parts of the world leading to intense competition. Cement companies are working extensively in digitalizing their production chain. HeidelbergCement is developing and testing a full variety of digital tools to deliver tailor-made solutions for customers.

In response to climate change, HeidelbergCement Group publicly promised to produce carbon neutral concrete by 2050. In the European market, companies are under particular pressure since the price of CO2 certificates, which they have to buy to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, is becoming increasingly expensive.

Unions say that health and safety remains an issue. Some 80-90 per cent of fatalities fall on contractors and third-party employees, clearly showing that these precarious workers need better protection from the company. The proportions of female workers (13 per cent) and young workers (12 per cent younger than 30) is low and must be urgently addressed by the company.

The company’s approach to human and workers’ rights is not satisfactory and is sometimes alarming, such as in Kazakhstan. The participants adopted a declaration of solidarity with workers of the Kazakh cement company Shymkentcement, owned by HeidelbergCement. There are also open cases in Egypt and Morocco, with negotiations ongoing with HeidelbergCement leadership.

The participants unanimously agreed that a multinational company like HeidelbergCement should match its global presence with global institutionalized dialogue with IndustriALL and BWI together with the European Works Council. Although dialogue functions well at European level, this is not the case in other countries.

In their open petition to global corporate management the participants said,

“We believe a company like HeidelbergCement present in 60 countries of the world must go beyond European boundaries and extend the European model of the social dialogue globally.”

The participants urged HeidelbergCement management to contact the global union federations to arrange a meeting where concerns could be addressed in the spirit of good practice and social dialogue.

Alexander Ivanou, responsible for the materials industries at IndustriALL, said:

“This meeting was full of open debates and discussions. I regret that no one from the global corporate leadership attended this conference. This would have been a unique opportunity for them to directly speak to delegates representing their workers all over the world. Our door remains open and through our joint declaration we invite HeidelbergCement to start a proper dialogue.”