IndustriALL trade union affiliates from four continents met on 19 to 21 June in Madrid to build on and continue coordination and information exchange at one of the longest standing union networks of IndustriALL.
In line with IndustriALL policy, the home country trade union takes the lead in organizing and driving the work of this network. The Japanese Bridgestone Union is the largest company-level union in the national Japanese Rubber Workers Union, Gomu-Rengo. And in turn, Gomu-Rengo is an important sector-level union in IndustriALL JAF. All three structures are active in the work of the Bridgestone trade union network.
The Bridgestone trade union network steering committee focuses its work around the issue of occupational health and safety. The unions from Europe, South Africa, Brazil and Japan exchange reports, challenges and strategies on health and safety.
Jesus Delgado, from the host union FICA-UGT, is Secretary of the Bridgestone European Works Council. Delgado reported a positive trend in safety and health in European manufacturing at Bridgestone. However the trend is negative in Bridgestone’s European retail operations. There is a high level of training on health and safety in Europe.
In Europe the highest levels of Bridgestone’s employment by country are, in order, Spain, Poland, France, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Belgium, UK, and Ireland. The average age of employees in Europe is 40 years old, with 10 years the average experience working at the company.
While Bridgestone Europe traditionally uses a low level of contract labour, the company is starting to increase it, especially in Poland and France.
In Brazil there are around 30,000 workers in the rubber sector. Bridgestone has two plants, both organized to a high level by IndustriALL affiliates in the Forza Sindical and CNQ-CUT national structures. The São Paulo plant has 3,500 workers, 90 per cent organized. The Bahia plant has 900 workers, 70 per cent organized.
The meeting addressed the industrial conflict at Bridgestone in Indonesia. Bridgestone in Palembang has dismissed six union delegates from the IndustriALL affiliate CEMWU and IndustriALL is seeking their reinstatement.
It was recognized that there exists significant gender imbalance throughout the company. Considerably low levels of female workers are present in the manufacturing section. In Brazil for example, women have many protections under the law, so Bridgestone is not alone in choosing to hire men in production jobs.
In South Africa each of the following tire companies employ around 1,100 workers, Bridgestone, Continental, Sumitomo and Goodyear. Bridgestone is increasing production currently after securing an agreement to supply the tires for new Volkswagen cars. All these companies participate in the national industry bargaining council with Numsa.
Dirane Selala, Numsa shop steward from Bridgestone Brits plant in South Africa said,
“We can say that this is an important network that brings workers together, to discuss issues of health and safety, at all rubber and tire plants, not only at Bridgestone.”
The Japanese union officials reported an improvement over the last four years industry-wide, in terms of frequency and gravity of accidents.
Common understanding and commitment was made to reach a situation of zero accidents at all plants, and the importance of training to achieve this.
Marcio Ferreira, São Paulo Rubber Workers’ Trade Union President,
“We know that little accidents can lead to big accidents. I’ve seen many colleagues die in this industry in Brazil. There is no worse feeling than losing a friend in a work accident.”
Gomu-Rengo President Kasukabe-san, Chair of the Bridgestone network said,
“The workers have the right to work in a safe environment. It is very important to set a high standard at Bridgestone that the other companies in the rubber sector must follow. We work in a spirit of respect, and of information sharing. Through our network we learn from each other.”
IndustriALL Director for the auto and rubber sectors Helmut Lense said,
“This very stable network builds trust and improves the health and safety situation worldwide. All the colleagues will continue to help each other. We need to extend the network in Asia. Thank you for the fruitful collaboration over the years.”
IndustriALL research and industry officer, Tom Grinter stated,
“The upcoming IndustriALL World conference for the rubber sector will seek to develop our trade union networks across the sector. Through our common commitment to the Bridgestone network we can continue to jointly further workers’ interests throughout the company.”
The network agreed to hold its next annual meeting in Japan.