By Tom Käckenhoff and Promit Mukherjee
DUISBURG, Germany/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Steel workers at Thyssenkrupp expect substantial guarantees for jobs and plants even if a planned joint venture with India’s Tata Steel falls apart, the head of Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe’s works council said on Wednesday.
The two companies last year agreed to combine their European steel activities, a move that would create the continent’s second-largest steelmaker but still needs European Commission approval.
Powerful steel workers at Thyssenkrupp, who have long been critical of the deal, last year gave their consent in exchange for far-reaching guarantees, including job and plant protection until 2026.
On Wednesday, they said that these guarantees should remain in place even if the joint venture fails, a real risk as it is unclear whether Brussels will agree to a list of remedies the two groups submitted earlier this week to gain approval.
“Should a joint venture – in theory – not happen we demand the same protection for our employees and our plants,” Tekin Nasikkol, head of Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe’s works council, said. “Nine months after the signing there is still no clarity – that creates great uncertainty among employees.”
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that the companies saw limited scope in improving their remedy offer should the Commission, which has set a June 5 deadline to make a decision, deem it insufficient.
Thyssenkrupp Chief Executive Guido Kerkhoff, who is currently pursuing a plan to break up the elevators-to-submarines conglomerate, said in February that if the joint venture falls apart “it won’t kill us”.
Analysts at Jefferies have previously said that keeping Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe would be better for its parent from a credit rating perspective.
Nasikkol said he did not think that Thyssenkrupp’s management was less committed to implementing the joint venture or the break-up: “They are working flat out on it.”
A spokesman for Tata Steel said it too continued to support the logic behind the planned venture.
“We’re committed to working closely with all relevant regulators and remain confident of the benefits of the joint venture to all our stakeholders,” he said in an e-mail.
(Writing by Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Alexander Smith)