20 May, 2021Trade unionists from around the world condemn poor working conditions at Fresenius and its international subsidiaries. The German DAX 30 company has long been in the spotlight for tax evasion and corruption.
Ahead of the annual general meeting of Fresenius and Fresenius Medical Care (FMC), the Fresenius Global Union Alliance—representing trade unions in countries around the world—is accusing the company of violating basic employee and trade union rights worldwide. In addition, there are repeated cases of corruption and systematic tax evasion via well-known tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.
"Maximizing profits on the employees’ backs, shifting the profits to tax havens and passing them on to shareholders in the form of ever-increasing dividends – Fresenius' top management is showing a clear pattern of behavior: profits come first, even if working conditions and quality of care suffer as a result,"
says Cordula Kiank of German union ver.di.
Fresenius management reported earnings before taxes totaling €4.6 billion for the past year, and the company announced its highest dividend ever for the annual general meeting on 21 May 2021. The trade unions say that this transfer of wealth to shareholders comes at their expense. They are asking how this massive sum—totaling nearly €500 million—can be paid to investors while workers endure enormous structural cuts. For the union alliance, this affront to workers shows why a global framework agreement, establishing a real worker voice and the observance of trade union rights, is needed.
In Colombia, Fresenius has not taken adequate steps to protect threatened workers. Unions there report that over 1,000 union and community leaders have been assassinated in the last two years, and in this context, a union president and Fresenius employee received an anonymous death threat.
"Even after repeated requests, Fresenius has refused to publicly condemn the threat made during negotiations with the company. Nor has Fresenius spoken out or taken measures that guarantee not only my safety but that of any Fresenius worker who wants to exercise the right to freedom of union association,”
said Claudia López Hernández, president of Sintraclínica Medellín Union, Colombia.
At another Colombian facility, Fresenius did not comply with a Supreme Court order and refused to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Workers report that their conditions continue to violate government regulations and terms of existing collective agreements.
In Brazil, conditions are also dire. The trade union CNTSS has documented poor working conditions, lack of materials and equipment, excessively long work days, low wages, unpaid overtime and disregard for collective agreements at FMC clinics.
The grievances are not limited to South America. In California, Fresenius did not inform its employees at the beginning of the pandemic that they were treating Covid-positive patients, although the company was aware of it. Several caregivers and patients became infected. Local management also said it would terminate workers if they spoke to the union about Covid-19-related problems at FMC clinics.
In Poland, a union was formed in 2015 at FMC facilities over the systematic violation of workers' rights. Since then, management has used various tactics to block unionization. Despite several instances being verified by regulators, management has not changed its behavior.
In the United States, the company had to pay $231 million in fines because federal investigations proved numerous bribes in 15 countries and the group did not keep its books clean in other countries. In 2019, this resulted in FMC's managerial and supervisory boards receiving only 56.8% and 52.3% endorsement in a vote of the shareholders.