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Unions promote and boost global dialogue with Saint-Gobain Group

9 January, 2024The current status and developments of the Saint-Gobain group were on the agenda when 20 union representatives from nine countries, representing workers in the group, met in Paris for a two day global union network meeting. This meeting was hosted by IndustriALL affiliate Fédération Chimie Energie FCE-CFDT on 19 and 20 December last year.

Originally a mirror manufacturer founded over 350 years ago, the Saint-Gobain Group has now diversified its production to include construction materials, high-performance products, and other materials and services. The group is present in 75 countries and directly employs around 168,000 workers in about 900 sites and 2700 points of sale and showrooms. Since 2021, the group has been achieving outstanding market results, characterized by an abundance of cash flow, with a total of 51.2 billion euro of annual sales in 2022.

The global union network debated the company’s current situation and its position in the market. The primary focus of the group's strategy appears to enhance the perception of stock market investors, with the aim of boosting the share value via gaining better trust of shareholders and investors. While on one side it works partly in the interest of employees, where about eight per cent of the shareholders are employees of the company. The workers are concerned that operating on purely financial goals will lead to undermining workers’ rights especially in the countries with weak labour legislation.

The delegates assessed the results of the annual survey regarding Industry 4.0’s impact on workers in different parts of the world. The survey revealed that most workers noticed a negative impact of Industry 4.0, resulting in elimination of some jobs and higher skills demands imposed. Unions are using different strategies making sure workers interests are considered. The delegates decided to continue monitoring the situation and exchange best practices and related union demands in order to assist each other in facing this challenge.

During the meeting, union delegates had the chance to engage in a debate with, social affairs director at Saint-Gobain, Regis Blugeon. They brought up local issues and discussed possibilities for expanding social dialogue with the group internationally. 

The delegates paid particular attention to the situation in Eupen, Belgium, where the shocking closure announcement by Saint-Gobain Innovative Materials Belgium left 55 workers facing unemployment. The discussion centred around the company's failed strategies and the desperate need to find a buyer for the Eupen site. The plight of the workers at Eupen became a symbol of broader issues within the group, highlighting the need for a more sustainable and employee-centric business model.

Alexander Ivanou, IndustriALL materials director said,

“Our network once again provided a valuable chance to gain a comprehensive understanding of the various challenges encountered by Saint-Gobain employees globally and to demonstrate our support. The reports from the delegates highlighted the importance of global social dialogue, an effective method for addressing and resolving problems and disputes. While we appreciate the possibility of casual exchanges with the company leadership, we however reiterated our invitation to the company to urgently start building an institutionalised social dialogue.”