November 21, 2017 / 3:27 PM / a month ago

Thyssenkrupp workers increase pressure in Tata Steel JV talks

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Labour representatives have piled pressure on Thyssenkrupp in talks over the group’s planned European steel joint venture with India’s Tata Steel, saying they remained concerned over jobs and plants.

FILE PHOTO: A man wears a helmet with glasses attached during a Thyssenkrupp steel workers protest rally in Bochum, Germany, September 22, 2017, against the planned combination of the group's European steel operations with those of Tata Steel. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

Thyssenkrupp and Tata Steel in September announced plans for a joint venture that would create Europe’s second-largest steelmaker after ArcelorMittal. The merger will also result in up to 4,000 job cuts, although workers fear that more will come.

Earlier this month, IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union called on management to provide guarantees for jobs, plants and future investments and has requested an independent review over whether the joint venture will be able to survive on its own.

It also demands the right of workers to participate in management of the venture, to be headquartered in the Netherlands.

To appease workers a group of board members and labour representatives was set up shortly after the announcement, but labour leaders said that regular meetings of that group had so far failed to ease their concerns.

“My impression is that this won’t fly. In its current form we cannot agree to a joint venture,” Detlef Wetzel, deputy supervisory board chairman of Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe, said.

“We expect a longer time frame for job security for employees,” Wetzel said.

Labour representatives hold half of the 20 seats on Thyssenkrupp’s supervisory board, and while a deal can still be pushed through without their consent, their approval could significantly smooth the transaction.

Thyssenkrupp declined to comment and referred to recent comments from board member Oliver Burkhard, who earlier this month said the group took demands by worker representatives very seriously, calling them an important step.

Thyssenkrupp is scheduled to report its full-year results on Thursday, Nov. 23, with fourth-quarter adjusted earnings before interest (EBIT) seen at 511 million euros, up 28 percent.

IG Metall, Germany’s largest union, is calling for job, plant and investment guarantees. Thyssenkrupp Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger hopes to reach an agreement in early 2018.

“We won’t let ourselves be put under pressure. We will negotiate as long as it is necessary,” said Markus Grolms, trade union secretary at IG Metall and vice chairman of Thyssenkrupp’s supervisory board.

He said an agreement in January was unlikely, adding management would have to make huge concessions to achieve this.

“If necessary, we are prepared to run this aground. Management needs to finally understand this. But it’s also in their hands to prevent this.”

Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff; Writing by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Louise Heavens

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