Meeting alongside the United Steelworkers’, USW, paper sector conference in Pittsburgh, USA, the global trade union network of Sappi workers met to maintain its joint work
South African pulp and paper company Sappi has production in three regions, Europe, USA, and Southern Africa. Almost all Sappi facilities are unionized, and over two-thirds of the 12,800 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements.
The two most serious common problems reported by shop stewards from the mills are understaffing and training. As is the case across much of the pulp and paper industries, companies are increasing production but reducing employment levels.
The expectation of considerable overtime combined with insufficient training is resulting in an aging workforce as new young workers look for jobs elsewhere.
IndustriALL Global Union Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan urged the network’s unions to support each other in bargaining:
“We will monitor the various contract expirations throughout Sappi and demand that the company addresses the concerns of our sisters and brothers in bargaining.”
The three Sappi mills in the US, Cloquet, Somerset and Westbrook, are all organized by the USW, covering 2,060 workers. Sappi’s seven mills in Europe employ 5,131 workers and were represented in this meeting of the network by a IG BCE in Germany, ACV and ABVV in Belgium, and the Austrian head of the European Works Council. In South Africa, there are 5,126 Sappi workers in seven mills and 492,000 hectares of forest.
Some job losses were reported from the last six months by the South African union CEPPWAWU. The Sappi Enstra Mill has been sold to Corruseal leading to 12 job losses. The Cape Kraft mill was sold to Golden Era who agreed not to cut staff. However since the purchases both sets of new management have attempted to make cutbacks. CEPPWAWU is taking action to maintain conditions and has criticized both Sappi and the purchasing companies.
Chair of the trade union network at Sappi, Peter Schuld of IG BCE Germany said:
“This network continues its important work on information exchange and building the coordination between Sappi workers. As we continue to learn from each other we will all be stronger. We will continue to work towards a contractual relationship with the company at the international level through a Global Framework Agreement.”