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Chemical sector unions respond to Covid-19

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24 April, 2020With powerful unions, large multinational companies, important sectoral bargaining agreements, the chemical industry sees a significant response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Especially in Europe and in the large multinational companies, strong social measures have been taken to protect employment.

In Germany, IG BCE has reached an agreement for the entire chemical sector with the employer confederation BAVC called the “Crisis Agreement“, which runs to the end of this year. The agreement enables wage increases for workers placed on short-time working. IG BCE says that short-time working will quickly become commonplace in the sector in Germany, which employs some 1.1 million people. The union is running information webinars for its works council reps.

In Brazil, almost all plastics, and some chemical factories are closed, while pharmaceutical factories are developing treatments. Workers sent home because of the virus are paid in part by the state, and part by the company, depending on state legislation and union strength at the factory. At least half of the salaries are covered by the state.

On 17 April, Fequimfar signed a sector-wide collective agreement for the state of Sao Paulo, covering 150,000 chemicals, plastics and fertilizers workers. The agreement means that workers will not lose wages due to the downturn in working hours. The CNQ-CUT has negotiated a benchmark agreement with BASF that serves as a strong example for the sector in Brazil.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“The chemical industry underpins the global economy, and our affiliated chemical unions are responding to this crisis with strength and maturity. We see strong national agreements, many specific crisis agreements with national and global companies, and a flexibility of production to make important equipment for the fight against the pandemic.”

Several major chemical companies have switched their production to make sanitisers, and the raw material for sanitisers, to be used in the pandemic effort. This includes BASF, Dow Chemical, Ineos, Shell, DSM, and Mol.

GFA partner company Solvay has launched a solidarity fund to provide additional support, both financial and non-financial, to any employee and dependents who may experience hardship due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Several major companies in the sector have announced they will ensure paid sick leave and guarantee full pay for three months in case of temporary layoffs. Examples being Solvay, Yara, and Unilever.

In the US, the USW negotiated a COVID-19 coronavirus protocol with BASF that may serve as a model for the rest of the US chemical industry in keeping facilities operating and workers safe.

In Austria, a national standard has been reached on short term employment to avoid job losses. It applies to all sectors, for a period of three months but can be extended. Works Councils and trade unions have guaranteed participation rights, and proposals must have their agreement.  
In Belgium and Italy, IndustriALL affiliates have been in conflict over the categorising of the entire chemical sector as essential services, which has meant that workers making products like sellotape are not sent home for isolation. Italian chemical unions have signed agreements with the chemical employers’ organisations on joint management through the crisis.

In Japan all factories in the sector are following similar measures to prevent the spread of infection, including temperature checks of everyone entering.

In the UK, unions including Unite joined together with the Chemical Industries Association employer body to deliver a joint message to the government that they are “united in their efforts to do all that is possible to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic and mitigate the social and economic impact.”

In Hungary, IndustriALL’s chemical sector affiliate VDSz is struggling against a unilateral extension of the Orban government’s “Slave Law”, announced on Good Friday to further limit opportunity for backlash. It gives unilateral power to employers to order workers into a 24-month reference period, under which collective agreement measures are suspended. The government consulted employers but not unions in preparing this measure.

In Norway, government is stepping in to cover most costs of workers unable to work due to the pandemic.

In Sweden most industry has continued production.

In Finland, the chemical sector has been nominated as an essential service and the unions are satisfied with that.

In Uruguay, the tripartite negotiation system has been used to establish measures for affected workers in the sector including a social fund, and measures for working from home.

In Colombia and Peru workers in the sector are suffering from the severe lack of legal social protection.