US-owned International Paper (IP) is the largest paper producing company in the world, employing 65,000 people in 34 countries. Despite year-on-year growth in revenue and production, workers’ conditions remain the same and in some plants are falling. So what’s going wrong?
To answer this and other questions, IndustriALL Global Union trade union representatives from Brazil, France, USA, Russia and Poland met for the IP Global trade union network meeting in Sao Paulo (Brazil) from 10 to 12 November 2015. These are the countries where IP produces the most.
The meeting revealed that many of the workers across IP’s operations are experiencing similar problems, particularly regarding health and safety. Almost all countries have had workplace incidents that have resulted in people dying. Only recently, two workers died at IP factories in the USA.
Intense debates at the meeting raised questions of wages, health and safety of workers, collective bargaining, organizing among other issues.
Salaries vary significantly from one country to another: from US$500 in Brazil up to US$2100 in France. Russian delegates told participants about their very strong social package, which they were able to achieve in the negotiations on collective bargaining. One of the IP plants, belonging to the Ilim group, is located in the far north of Russia where people live and work in very difficult conditions at low temperatures.
Representatives from the United States revealed that a major problem for IP employees in the US outdated equipment. The US delegates took the initiative (which was supported by all participants), to ask company management to hold a conference in 2016 on health and safety. The conference, would be paid for by IP and include one representative from each of the unions of the countries concerned.
Many participants of the meeting also offered to initiate a dialogue with the company on a global framework agreement.
On the last day of the meeting, all participants had the opportunity to visit one of the Brazilian IP mills - Mogi Guaçu, located 200 kilometers from Sao Paulo. Delegates were shown the mill, but, unfortunately, they did not have the opportunity to talk to workers.
"Today, the main issue is the protection of employees at International Paper,” said Jon Geenen, United Steelworkers vice-president and chairman of the IP trade union network. “We must contribute to the solution of this problem for the benefit of all workers employed in the company's production operations."