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O-I Glass global union network advances workers’ rights

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26 November, 2021Some 30 delegates from the USA, Colombia, Chile, Peru, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Indonesia and France joined the O-I Glass global union network meeting on 23 November 2021, to discuss problems related to health and safety, the extreme use of precarious employment, the introduction of MAGMA modular technology and its impact on workers, as well as the prospects of social dialogue with the company.

O-I Glass (formerly Owens-Illinois) is a US-origin company with approximately 25,000 employees and 72 plants spread across 20 countries. Currently O-I is experiencing challenging times: the company had outstanding debt of US$5.1 billion in 2020. This is a slight decrease from US$5.6 billion in 2019, but the outstanding debt makes the company vulnerable to adverse economic conditions and forces it to dedicate a substantial portion of cash flow from operations to service the debt. In July 2020, the company completely sold its operations in Australia and New Zealand, representing the majority of its business in the Asia Pacific, to service debt. The company still maintains a presence in Indonesia.

Unions in South America and Indonesia reported great difficulties in terms of working conditions, safety and social dialogue.

Just before the meeting of the network a tragedy happened in Brazil, when on 10 November a glass furnace leaked at an O-I Glass factory in São Paulo, Brazil, resulting in injuries to four workers. One of the workers, Antônio Carlos Tola Júnior, 43, a batch and furnace coordinator, was admitted to hospital with burns to 75 per cent of his body.

O-I imposes maximum flexibility in terms of working conditions on its workers. In France, for instance, there is a 25 per cent increase in outsourcing in 2021 compared to 2020. This choice of precarity inevitably leads to less professionalism, less competence and higher insecurity. A similar trend can be observed in other countries as well.

The company is introducing a new generation of glass furnaces called MAGMA (Modular Advanced Glass Manufacturing Asset) which are low-capacity furnaces of 120 to 150 tonnes. The company portrays them as a technological breakthrough but workers are worried that the new technology will further facilitate flexibility and will enable the company to stop the furnace with greater ease.

Following the global network meeting in the US at the end of 2018, IndustriALL Global Union and the USW (US Steelworkers Union) wanted to establish international dialogue, but so far these attempts have not brought tangible results.

To find solutions to these challenges the delegates of the meeting decided to reinvigorate the work of the network, setting up a steering committee to maintain communication on economic, social, industrial and environmental information, beyond the global annual network meetings.

Alexander Ivanou, IndustriALL materials industries officer, said:

“Despite a short few hours together, this was a very productive network meeting. We discussed existing serious problems regarding health and safety, precarious work and also lack of consultation with workers’ representatives over new technologies. We will continue monitoring the situation in the company. At the same time, we will not stop our attempts to build social dialogue with the company. And the trade unions will use all the existing tools at our disposal to achieve it.”