Chhattisgarh – Update on contract workers’ indefinite dharna at ACC-Holcim

August 18, 2011

by Sudha Bharadwaj (On behalf of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh)

1. On 10th August at about about 3pm, 100 women and children, wives of the agitating contract workers marched to the ACC-Holcim gates in Bhilai Industrial estate, shouted slogans demanding implementation of the High Court order and the taking back of false cases on the union leaders and activists.

2. Since the management has refused to come to the negotiating table so far, the union Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh will now file a cross appeal to the Writ Appeal filed by the company in the High Court. Arguments on both these Writ Appeals would be starting on 16th August.

3. The union will observe 15th August Independence Day at the Niyogi Chowk, Bhilai – where for the past 4 months the workers have been on dharna – with a mobilization of youth and a campaign against the way predatory foreign capital can still dominate the administration and disregard Indian labour laws, like Holcim has managed to do so far.

4. On 9th August, the bail of Bhagwati Sahu, elected member of the local body (Janpad Panchayat) and an activist of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh, falsely accused by a security officer of Ambuja-Holcim of dacoity and assault because of union activities, was rejected by the High Court of Chhattisgarh. The union will now move the Supreme Court. We urge all friends to begin a nationwide campaign for the release of Bhagawati.

3. On 26th July at about 5.30pm, there was a serious industrial accident in the Grasim Cement (of the Aditya Birla group), not far away from the Ambuja factory, in which a part of a new plant under construction collapsed injuring (and possibly killing) a number of contract workers working there. A joint fact finding team of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (to which the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh is affiliated) and the AICCTU federation were not permitted to enter the premises, let alone visit the site by the Management. Since a number of contractors were working on the site and most of them were employing workers from outside the state, who have been immediately sent away, it has still not been possible to ascertain the real impact of the accident.

4. In the past month there have been moves to retrench another 200 odd local workers working in Ambuja- Holcim, ostensibly hired by so-called contractor “Ayoki”, most of them being members of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh. But these workers are refusing to accept the “final settlements” being made.

5. This year about 1500 workers gathered at Bhilai on 1st July to observe the 19th anniversary of the day when 17 workers (including 3 of ACC-Holcim) had been killed in a brutal police firing. (On 1st July 1992, after a long patient struggle, the workers had blockaded railtracks basically demanding abolition of sham and bogus contract labour.) This year dalit contract workers of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation led by Milind Ranade of the New Trade Union Initiative were our guests of honour and inspired us by their brave strugle against exploitation and discrimination.

What keeps the contract workers of PCSS going in the face of the adamant attitude of the Holcim management? That was reflected in the animated discussions of 2nd July 2011 on ……”The Paris Commune and its Lessons” ….. a dream of the working class not just toiling to create wealth, but also wielding political power to determine their destinies.

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Update on May 1, 2011

by Indira Chakravarthi, Shalini Gera (Friends of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha)

The indefinite dharna by contract workers asking for the implementation of a High Court order directing ACC-Holcim to regularize them completes four weeks today.

On 28th April, 1000 out of the 1200 workers of the company (there are only about 300 permanent workers) voluntarily abstained from work – there was no demonstration or picketing, they simply stayed at home. There was hardly any production that day at the ACC plant. The contractors have put up notices saying that this has resulted in great economic loss and if this is repeated disciplinary action would be taken! While it is very alert and conscious of its own income and losses, the management seems to be totally impervious and callous to the incalculable losses to the workers’ lives arising from its unethical and unlawful practices. The solidarity of the workers in the company is very significant since while the High Court order would result in regularization of at most 150 workers, its implementation would mean recognition of the union and the legitimacy of its demands.

Before this on 25th April, children of the contract workers had taken out a rally to the Ambedkar Statue and addressed the press in support of justice to their families.

On 15th April, the day about 500 workers cycled 12 kilometres to the Collectorate to demand that the administration hold negotiations for implementation of the High Court Order, the union had been served two letters by the company stating that their sit-in was not legal. The workers were asked to co-operate with the company while it studied the papers and decided on a course of action, and were advised to call off their action.

Although the management finally met with the workers on the evening of 20th April, in a meeting directed by the local administration, it was unrelenting and did not indicate any inclination nor give any commitment to implement the court orders. The management insisted that there should be a certified list of workers to be regularized from the court, which was not possible since the membership receipts were not exhibited. The union maintained that the management should show its respect for the Judgment by initiating the process of regularisation with the 75 undisputed workers.

On 25th April the company has filed a writ appeal in the High Court, which is listed for hearing on 2nd May.

Solidarity and Support

In response to our previous update a large number of trade unions, individuals, organisations and networks have written to HOLCIM-ACC urging them to abide by the HC orders as well by their own commitments under the Global Compact, and to not drag the already exploited workers through another round of litigation.

Particularly significant is that in view of the annual general body meeting of HOLCIM on 5th May several international union federations – the Building and Woodworkers Federation, the International Chemical, Engineering and Mineworkers Federation and the Swiss Trade Union Federation UNIA have initiated an international campaign to persuade Holcim to negotiate with the contract labourers to implement the spirit of the High Court order and the Industrial Court order. The letter campaign is available on BWI Website www.bwint.org.

On 4th May, the Trade Union Solidarity Committee, Mumbai, – which includes a number of strong unions like the Blue Star, Voltas and Hindustan Lever unions as well as Mumbai Electricity Employees Union – and other individuals and organizations are planning a demonstration at the corporate headquarters of Holcim India at Mumbai.

On 1st May, May Day, an industrial strike is planned in the entire industrial area of Bhilai on the following demands and in solidarity with the struggle of contract workers in ACC-Holcim:

· No to Contract Labour
· The Right to Organize
· A Living Wage
· Safety at the work-site
· 8 hour working day
· Respect to the socialist values of our Constitution

Through this struggle the contract workers are raising several stark facts regarding cement production in general and specifically regarding ACC-Holcim:

1. The cement wage board agreement to which ACC was a signatory prohibits contract labour in cement production process, and even where permissible in loading and unloading of raw materials and packaging, they are supposed to be paid at the same rates as regular workers. But these workers have been carrying cement production for several decades and are being paid only minimum wages.

2. The profits after tax of HOLCIM-ACC are continuously over Rs1000 crores per year since 2006.

3. The entire cost of manufacturing (of which labour costs are but a tiny percentage) is also less than half (42%) of the total revenue for the company. Thus a slight increase in the labour costs is hardly going to cut into the profits of the company.

4. The net worth of the company was also growing, and was at Rs 6,469 crore for the last financial year, with an impressive 17% rate of return.

5. Holcim, the second largest cement manufacturer in the world, pays a European worker $8 an hour, and an Indian contract worker $2.17 a day (about 32 times less). Even if Holcim pays cement wage board rates that would come to $7 a day (which is 8 times less)

6. The CEO (Marcus Akerman) has an annual pay packet including perks of Rs 10.5 crore. If 100 workers are paid arrears of regular wages from the date of the reference i.e 2000 it would be approximately Rs 8.4 crores.

BRIEF RECAP OF THE STRUGGLE

On 3rd April, the contract workers had served notices to the Collector and Assistant Labour Commissioner, Durg and the City Superintendent of Police Chhaoni, and started their protest in the Bhilai Industrial Estate, Jamul. Each day since then, groups of workers have been joining the protest after completion of their respective shifts, their families and mohalla members have been sitting in dharna during the day, and volunteers from among the affected workmen have been sleeping at the protest site during the nights. The workers have been holding gate meetings and distributing pamphlets outside other factories in the industrial area during lunch hours asking for solidarity.

It may be recalled that the contract workers, organized under the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh (PCSS) Union, have struggled for over 20 years, seeking regular employment at the ACC-Holcim cement plant instead of the exploitative and illegal contract-based employment system currently in place. Under the Cement Wage Board Agreement – a tripartite agreement between the All India Cement Manufacturers Association, the central trade unions and the government, in force since 1978 – no contract labour would be employed in cement manufacture at all, and if any were to be employed it would be limited to the loading and unloading of raw materials and would be paid at the same rate as the permanent employees. Despite this landmark agreement, use of contract labour in cement industry is rampant today, and it is estimated that over 70% of the labour force engaged in the nine large cement plants of Chhatisgarh today is contract labour, employed under unlawful and highly abusive conditions.

Contract workers of ACC-Holcim have been seeking regularization for the past twenty years, of which the last ten years have been spent in a lengthy and expensive litigation process. Both the Industrial Court and the Chhattisgarh High Court have eventually sided with the contract workers, holding their contracts “sham and bogus” and directing the ACC-Holcim company to regularize them immediately.

Despite clear indictment by the courts, ACC-Holcim has been refusing to implement the High Court order and to regularize any one of the more than hundred eligible Union employees. It is imperative that the company accede to the ethical and legal demands of the Union for regularization of these employees, rather than engage in another round of litigation. It is to be noted that Holcim has been a signatory to the UN Global Compact since 2003, a fact that Holcim prominently advertises as an aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility. The UN Global Compact includes a code of conduct for companies regarding treatment of labour, and stipulates that forced labour and discrimination would not be resorted to by managements.

Other related materials / articles are available at the following sites:

· Repression of Workers’ Struggles in Chhattisgarh www.epw.org.in/epw/uploads/articles/15996.pdf

· Article from the Hindu on the workers’ dharna: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article1704181.ece

· http://www.icem.org?id=78&doc=4356&language=en&la=EN&uid=JGVfbWFpbF9kZXN0aW5hdGFpcmVz

· Action alert and update on day 16 of the ACC-Holcim dharna http://www.sacw.net/article2016.html and on http://sanhati.com/articles/3470/

· Press release announcing the launch of the indefinite dharna at ACC-Holcim plant in Bhilai: http://www.sacw.net/article2001.html

· Background of the cement industry and trouble brewing at Ambuja-Holcim plant in Chhattisgarh : http://www.sacw.net/article1957.html

For more details, please contact Friends of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha at pcss.cg@gmail.com.