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10 July, 2019Leading trade unions at the largest tyre company in the world, Bridgestone of Japan, have coordinated joint action for many years, with a special focus on health and safety.
On 11-12 June, 2019, the IndustriALL Bridgestone Global Network Steering Committee met for its 18th annual activity, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Following the group’s protocol, the body is chaired by the Japanese Rubber Workers’ Union Confederation, Gomu Rengo, an important affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union. The Japanese Bridgestone Workers’ Union organizes and coordinates the meetings which rotate annually between Japan and other important locations for the company.
Both South African plants of Bridgestone are organized by the IndustriALL affiliated National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), and as hosts of this year’s activity, NUMSA arranged for the group to visit the nearby Brits factory and exchange with management. The plant employs 766 workers and the local NUMSA shop stewards are accompanying the transition of the tyre factory to upskill workers and adapt to modern machines and production techniques.
Gomu Rengo president, and chair of the network, Hiroyuki Ishitsuka opened the meeting by outlining the importance of mature industrial relations at global tyre manufacturers such as Bridgestone. Under the current climate of new technologies giving the potential to new companies to grow and take market share from the big three, Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear, president Ishitsuka said:
“We must remain vigilant. Workers and management must establish common rules, understanding, and communication. And occupational health and safety is a huge priority. We count on IndustriALL’s unchanged support in building the strength of this network.”
The issue of dumping of cheap tyres from China, and elsewhere in Asia, is a major issue for tyre manufacturers in South Africa, Japan and Europe. The cheap tyres are flooding the market and threatening the jobs of IndustriALL members around the world.
The current global slowdown in the car industry, as well as the mining industry are directly affecting the tyre industry. NUMSA will be working with the Japanese union colleagues to seek assurances for the future of the second Bridgestone factory in South Africa, at Port Elizabeth, which employs 250 workers.
The chair of the Bridgestone European Works Council, Marco Argilli plays an important role in this global body. Marco presented to the group regarding Bridgestone’s progress in the field of health and safety, with a positive record of no serious injuries in Europe in 22 months. However, Marco raised the issue that is present in the South African factories of worker contact with carbon black.
In Europe, Bridgestone is investing US $41 million over the coming four years to digitize the manufacturing processes at its eight European plants in France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain. The investment will include upskilling and training for Bridgestone employees in order to operate digital technologies that are designed to help improve resource efficiency and job satisfaction. The improvements also will address energy savings, efficiency increases, waste reduction and process simplification.
Heinz Evertz, coordinator of the Bridgestone European Works Council, made an important contribution to the meeting with a focus on cancer. Heinz argues that occupational cancer should receive more attention from Bridgestone, with health just as important as safety. The meeting agreed that further research is needed into the real cancer risks of the materials used in tyre production.
The Japanese Bridgestone Workers’ Union’s Takahiro Nakajima reported that an active union is the only way to a safe workplace:
“Safety is improving in Bridgestone Japan because of the union involvement and our improved equipment. If our members raise a safety issue from the workplace, we take it to management and make sure that they are listened to.”
Tom Grinter, IndustriALL rubber sector director said:
“IndustriALL believes in campaigning for the core rights around health and safety. Our members have a right to know, to participate, and to act. This means that Bridgestone must make information on the risks and hazards in the workplace available to all employees, workers must always have the right to refuse a task if she or he sees a danger, and our members must have the right to jointly plan and implement the health and safety programs in their workplaces.”
NUMSA shop steward James Selala and international officer Christine Olivier reported positive action from Bridgestone management under the three core rights of health and safety. However, it was stressed that efforts are needed to increase understanding on occupational cancer. Information gathering will be conducted into health of workers retiring after a long career at the Bridgestone facilities, as it is common that workers die within three years of retirement.
Next year’s annual activity will be held outside of Japan due to the Olympic Games being held in Tokyo in 2020.