Thyssenkrupp workers have massed outside the ailing steel hub in Duisburg, Germany, demanding job safeguards and increased investment. The conglomerate has a new head after a failed merger bid with India's Tata.
Steel employee's council chairman Tekin Nasikkol, addressing 6,000 workers from various Thyssenkrupp plants, accused "incompetent managers" of crippling the once proud concern based in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state in recent years.
The protest took place as Thyssenkrupp's supervisory board, with new Chief Executive Martina Merz, convened and declared it had "limited" room for manoeuver but swore its belief in "the future of steel."
Its plan includes 2,000 steel layoffs among 6,000 jobs globally — due when a collective agreement precluding redundances runs out at the end of the year.
Labor representatives, who want that contract extended, say a management pledge to invest €570 million ($632 million) in the steel division needs to be tripled to revive Thyssenkrupp's market chances.
"My initial feeling is that it [the company's outlay] won't be sufficient," said Knut Giesler, trade union head for the IG Metall in NRW.
Abortive merger, failed stakes
In June, the EU's competition authority blocked a merger with India's Tata Steel after Thyssenkrupp stakes in steelworks in Brazil and the USA initiated in 2006 and 2007 failed to pay off.
Addressing workers, Nasikkol accused the diversified concern of treating its steel workers as "grubby kids" and omitting repairs or only making makeshift fixes.
"Now it's time that money flows back," said Nasikkol, stating that steel had poured €3.5 billion ($3.9 million) in profits into concern coffers in the past decade.
Hard competition, reform strategy
Thyssenkrupp, with some 160,000 employees worldwide, has faced years of hard competition in a market closely dictated by global economic trends, cheaper pricing by foreign rivals, and environmental regulations.
Its new chief Martina Merz is reportedly planning to find efficiencies, cut debt, get rid of struggling units, and find new partners.
"The goal is clear: to create a company that earns money again, pays dividends, has a stable foundation and thus also offers employees long-term prospects," said Merz, outlining her executive board's strategy.
Employees plan another demonstration on Wednesday at Thysenkrupp's parent company headquarters in Essen that also oversees its elevator division.