Forty delegates from Europe, Middle East and North Africa, North America, Asia-Pacific and South Asia gathered on 1 and 2 November in Bremen, Germany. It is the first time employees of HeidelbergCement have gathered for a global discussion of challenges faced by workers at the company.
The meeting was organized by IndustriALL Global Union with support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, also involving IndustriALL‘s sister organisation Building and Wood Workers‘ International.
Despite a repeated invitation, global company management did not attend the meeting and hence missed the opportunity to talk to workers in this forum.
The recent developments in the cement sector, including technological advances, company expansion and restructuring, are accompanied by a rise in precarious work, occupational health and safety problems and deteriorating working conditions. Workers are under increasing pressure; in France a subcontracted worker of HeidelbergCement reportedly tried to take his own life.
The delegates expressed a strong opinion on the urgent necessity to reinforce their ranks through organizing efforts and improved ability of the unions to attract a bigger number of young and women workers.
Because of its enormous size, the company’s impact on nature, CO2 storage and utilization is significant and also needs to be properly addressed. If the company is serious about their aim of mitigating the impact on nature and about HeidelbergCement sustainability goals for 2030, it can only be done with the direct involvement of workers, unions, shop stewards and works councils.
During the conference, the delegates also discussed what has been done in other sectors. They paid special attention to the experience of global and national unions interacting with management at another big cement giant company, LafargeHolcim.
At the end of the meeting, delegates unanimously adopted a Bremen declaration and elected a steering committee for the network, which will coordinate the work in between its global meetings.
Matthias Hartwich, director for materials industry at IndustriALL said,
“With the creation of the HeidelbergCement union network, we open the door to social dialogue if management is willing, and we hope union activists will contribute seriously to the promotion of workers’ rights and interests in the company. To this end, the steering committee will be in close interaction with the national unions. Finally, we strongly believe that HeidelbergCement will only win through workers’ active participation and engagement.”