Is participation in NIT Raipur important
The tough tactics of the cement pourers
The Swiss cement company Holcim is celebrating its 100th anniversary. For the workers in India there is little to celebrate because the company violates human rights there.
By Alice Rombach
According to its own statement, environmental protection and social responsibility are central to its global activities for the Swiss cement group Holcim. The reality is partly different. For example, Holcim employs 80 percent contract workers in two Indian subsidiaries. Although they do the same jobs over the long term as permanent employees, they only earn around a third of their wages.
Many of them are organized in the Indian Contract Workers Union (PCSS), which has been fighting for permanent employment, against the criminalization of protesters, layoffs, and land and water theft in the state of Chhattisgarh for over twenty years.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Holcim company, a PCSS delegation wanted to travel to Switzerland to provide information on the business practices of the international group, which is active in over seventy countries. Only Shalini Gera arrived - two other PCSS members were not allowed to leave India because of “ongoing proceedings”. "It is very important that we network internationally in order to jointly implement campaigns against multinational corporations," Gera told WOZ.
In 2005, Holcim acquired the two Indian cement manufacturers ACC and Ambuja Cement Ltd. Since the 1990s, temporary workers from the two plants have been campaigning for permanent employment contracts together with the PCSS union. The new group management did not improve the precarious working conditions, but tightened them. ACC-Holcim and Ambuja-Holcim immediately withdrew from an Indian agreement between cement companies, trade unions and the government after the takeover. In addition, Holcim reduced the number of workers doing the same amount of work, which led to serious accidents.
A 2000 lawsuit filed by the PCSS in the Indian Labor Court was upheld in 2006. The judgment obliged the new owner, ACC-Holcim, to employ the temporary workers on a permanent basis and to reverse the layoffs after the takeover. But the group appealed. In 2011, Holcim was convicted again by the next higher instance, the Higher Court of Chhattisgarh, but disregarded the verdict. As a result, the temporary workers went on strike and received international support - from the Swiss trade union Unia, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mining and Factory Workers' Unions (ICEM), the International Confederation of Construction and Woodworkers and the NGOs Solifonds and Multiwatch.
Since January the PCSS has also filed a lawsuit against Holcim with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs - for violations of the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Holcim does not recognize the PCSS and has refused to participate in several arbitration meetings. "Holcim's anti-union behavior can also be classified as scandalous by international standards," says Tom Grinter from ICEM, who supports the PCSS 'OECD lawsuit.
Holcim not only violates labor rights in India. "The group is privatizing common land and enforcing this with intimidation and violence," reports Gera. For example, a local MP who has a leading position in the farmers' organization has been in prison for almost a year. Ambuja-Holcim accuses him of assault and robbery. "This is a constructed charge with many contradictions," said Gera. "And the only witnesses who will be heard are the company's security men."
Holcim also affects the living conditions of the local population in other ways. The high water consumption of the cement works led to a drop in the groundwater level, causing wells to dry out. Last year, Holcim also diverted a drinking water canal for forty villages to their production facilities.
In a joint manifesto, the unions, Solifonds and Multiwatch are now calling on Holcim to comply with labor and trade union rights and the local population's right of co-determination and not to endanger the living space of the latter.
At the Kunstmuseum Bern, Holcim is currently exhibiting photos of workers as part of its anniversary (see WOZ No. 11/12). Since the beginning of the week, Gera and her colleagues have protested there with their own pictures of the Indian Holcim workers, which tell of a different reality.
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