Germany steel workers protest over Thyssenkrupp-Tata steel merger plan

Demonstrators hold masks of Thyssenkrupp chief executive Heinrich Hiesinger during a protest in Bochum, western Germany. (AP)
Updated 23 September 2017
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Germany steel workers protest over Thyssenkrupp-Tata steel merger plan

BOCHUM, Germany: Several thousand steelworkers took to the streets of Bochum in Germany’s industrial heartland on Friday to protest against the planned merger of the European steel units of Thyssenkrupp and Tata Steel.
Just two days before general elections in Europe’s biggest economy, the demonstrators protested against up to 4,000 job cuts that will be made should the joint venture go ahead. This would be about 8 percent of the combined workforce.
Thyssenkrupp and Tata this week said they had signed a memorandum of understanding for a 50-50 joint venture that would create Europe’s second-biggest steelmaker after ArcelorMittal, with combined sales of about €15 billion (SR67.28 billion).
Thyssenkrupp Chief Executive Heinrich Hiesinger says a joint venture will be the best solution to what he sees as the main issue in Europe’s steel industry — overcapacity — but politicians and labor leaders fear further cuts.
“We want guarantees for all employees and locations,” said Detlef Wetzel, deputy supervisory board chairman of Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe.
Hiesinger depends on the support of labor representatives, which hold half of the 20 seats on the supervisory board of Thyssenkrupp AG, and have fiercely opposed the Tata deal.
If all of them vote against the deal, the board’s chairman could still push through the plan with his casting vote but it is Hiesinger’s declared goal to get labor leaders on board.
Wetzel said he was not overly optimistic after initial talks with Hiesinger and that he expected further cost cuts.
“2020 — that’s when things will really get going,” he said, referring to the date when Hiesinger has said a fundamental review of operations would take place after initial cost trimming.
IG Metall said about 7,000 workers took part in the protest in the Ruhr valley city.
Thyssenkrupp’s supervisory will discuss the plans at a meeting on Saturday even though the MoU has already been signed. It will decide on the plans early next year, Thyssenkrupp said on Wednesday.
Europe’s steel market has an annual production capacity of about 200 million tons, while actual production is about 160 million tons.
“I am not convinced by the merger plans at all. Without guarantees the labor side will not agree to it in the supervisory board,” said German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, a leading member of the Social Democrats.
“You can put that idea right out of your head, Mr.Hiesinger.”
Opposition from Thyssenkrupp’s workforce could mean prolonger negotiations with management and delay any approval of the plan by the supervisory board. The two steel firms say the would like to close the deal in late 2018.
Thyssenkrupp’s management and labor leaders are in for tough negotiations over the next months, before a contract could be signed early next year.
“I feel like I’ve been dumped on, screwed over, but I’m in a combative mood nonetheless,” said Guenter Back, head of Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe’s works council.
“There is nothing good about this deal. And that’s why we have to reject it.”


Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

Updated 20 August 2018
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Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

  • Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar
  • The new currency will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro

CARACAS: Beleaguered Venezuelans braced Monday for the rollout of President Nicolas Maduro’s radical new plan to curb the spiraling hyperinflation that has thrown their oil-rich, cash-poor nation into turmoil.
Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar, casting a pall of uncertainty over businesses and consumers across the country.
“There will be a lot of confusion in the next few days, for consumers and the private sector,” said the director of the Ecoanalitica consultancy, Asdrubal Oliveros.
“It’s a chaotic scenario.”
Other measures — revealed by Maduro in a speech to the nation late Friday — include a massive minimum wage hike, the fifth so far this year.
As it stands, the monthly minimum wage — devastated by inflation and the aggressive devaluation of the bolivar — is still not enough to buy a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meat.
The embattled Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, said the country needed to show “fiscal discipline” and stop the excessive money printing of recent years.
But economists say the radical overhaul could only make matters worse.
In the capital Caracas, residents were skeptical about the new measures.
“Everything will stay the same, prices will continue to rise,” 39-year-old Bruno Choy, who runs a street food stand, said.
Angel Arias, a 67-year-old retiree, dubbed the new currency a “pure lie!”
Three of the country’s leading opposition groups — Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular and Causa R — have rejected the reform plan and called for a day of protest on Tuesday.
The new currency, the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named, strong bolivar — will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro.
Each petro will be worth about $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan oil. In the new currency, that will be 3,600 sovereign bolivars — signaling a massive devaluation.
In turn, the minimum wage will be fixed at half a petro (1,800 sovereign bolivars). That is about $28 — more than 34 times the previous level of less than a dollar at the prevailing black market rate.
The socialist president also announced a curb on heavily subsidized fuel in a bid to prevent oil being smuggled to other countries.
Subsidies would only be available to citizens registering their vehicles for a “fatherland card,” which the opposition has decried as a mechanism to exert social control over opponents.
Fuel subsidies have cost Venezuela $10 billion since 2012, according to oil analyst Luis Oliveros, but without them, most people would not be able to buy fuel.
Oliveros also warned that the new bank notes will crumble “within a few months” if hyperinflation is not brought under control.
The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year in Venezuela — now in a fourth year of recession, hamstrung by shortages of basic goods, and paralyzed public services.
“Don’t pay attention to naysayers,” Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said, pushing back against criticism of the plan. “With oil income, with taxes and income from gasoline price hikes... we’ll be able to fund our program.”
Oil production accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s revenue — but that has slumped to a 30-year low of 1.4 million barrels a day, compared to its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago.
Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez stripped three zeroes off the bolivar in 2008, but that failed to prevent hyperinflation.