FRANKFURT, May 5 (Reuters) - Linde Chairman Wolfgang Reitzle has defended his plan for a $70 billion merger with U.S. rival Praxair, telling a German newspaper it was a good deal for workers and investors.
The German industrial gases group has faced unexpectedly strong opposition to the planned all-share merger of equals from trade unions who fear a dilution of their influence and large-scale job losses, as well as scepticism from some investors.
"The deal is extremely good for shareholders, and the employees get job guarantees for five years," he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview released on Friday ahead of publication on Saturday.
The merger, which promises $1 billion of synergies, would reunite a global company split by World War One a century ago and create a market leader to rival Air Liquide.
But Linde's supervisory board, which has to approve the deal, is evenly split between worker representatives who oppose it and shareholder representatives who are in favour. Reitzle could use his casting vote to force it through if necessary.
"Of course I would prefer to avoid the casting vote," Reitzle told the paper, adding he would continue to talk to labour representatives to try to win their consent. He had previously told the Financial Times he was prepared to use it.
The head of Linde's works council, who sits on the supervisory board, was unimpressed.
"We see no change here," Gernot Hahl told Reuters by telephone after reading the interview. "We are still opposed to the deal."
Negotiations to hammer out a final business combination agreement between Linde and Praxair are taking longer than expected, a fact that Linde has put down to "legal complexity".
The two companies had hoped to have a plan in place before Linde's annual shareholder meeting on May 10.
A supervisory board meeting that had been scheduled to vote on the agreement last Wednesday was cancelled and no new meeting has yet been called. (Writing by Edward Taylor and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Potter)