27 June, 2019Union representatives from 16 countries representing workers at worldwide operations of German-based chemical company met on 25 June at the headquarters of the Petrol-İş union in Istanbul, Turkey.
Union networking at BASF has been active at the regional level in Latin America, North America and Asia-Pacific over the years. Regional network members met for the second time after the first global meeting in 2015. Industrial relations are well established in the regions, and the aim of the meeting was to develop a common understanding about the company’s labour policies and practices in order to develop a global level social dialogue.
The meeting was financially and politically supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).
The meeting was opened by the general secretary of Petrol-İş, Ahmet Kabaca, and the vice general president of Lastik-İş, Ziya Ünal. Both unions strongly represents BASF workers in Turkey, but as Ünal pointed out, the Turkish labour code prevents them from cooperating to organize the same workplaces.
Kabaca spoke about global attacks on workers, saying:
"We are getting poorer every day. We will never accept this situation. We as the working class and the union movement will continue to fight so that we won’t be the working poor."
IndustriALL industry director Tom Grinter gave a detailed overview of the position of the company globally and its relationship with unions in different regions, and Michael Wolters of IG BCE spoke about Industry 4.0 and digitalization, and the emerging technologies bringing tremendous change to the chemical industry: augmented reality, the Internet of Things, 3-D goggles, 3-D printing, drones and big data.
"We can’t see the future because we are limited by our horizon. Lifelong learning and ongoing training will allow us to respond flexibly and ensure that there is sufficient employment."
Delegates compared conditions at BASF sites across the world. Thiago Rios, Raghuram Theramkudalu and Doug Watts spoke about the situation in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and North America respectively.
Doug Watts of the United Steelworkers recalled the first time Brazilian trade unionists visited his plant in the US:
"When we bring workers together and talk face to face, the company can't undermine us by pitting worker against worker and country against country."
Lú Varjão of Brazil asked the BASF network about the position of women in the company and in the unions, and policies to improve the situation. This initiated a serious debate about the work that is needed to bring more women into the sector and into activism.
This was followed by a discussion on health and safety.
Tom Grinter said:
“The regional networks in the region are mature and they function well. We need to take everything we have learned from each other and apply it at global level. We want to establish global social dialogue with BASF, so that we can win the best possible conditions for workers and secure jobs for the future.”
The meeting adopted an action plan to take the work forward.