EU Workers Need Legal Say On Mergers, TotalFina-Elf Union Insists

ICEM Update, No. 3/2000, 25 January 2000

European law must give workers more say on corporate mergers and takeovers.

That is the call from French chemical and energy workers' union the FCE-CFDT this week as a proposed merger between TotalFina and Elf nears approval.

The two companies have already agreed to merge, but under European competition law they first need the go-ahead from the Commission, the EU's powerful civil service. The new TotalFina-Elf group would be the world's fourth-biggest oil concern. Its combined global workforce is currently around 150,000 people.

After weeks of negotiation, TotalFina officially submitted its proposals to the European competition authorities on 19 January.

The commitments include selling off:

Also, the fuel supply structures at Lyon and Toulouse airports would be opened up to competition.

The Commission is expected to reach a decision by mid-February, and is understood to favour the company's proposals.

The EU competition directorate did meet European trade unions within TotalFina and Elf on 21 January to hear their views. However, the FCE-CFDT criticises the lack of transparency and the absence of information to employees. In general, the union says, EU law remains inadequate regarding employees' right to information and consultation on any plans whatever to merge, take over or regroup enterprises.

At the global level, the FCE-CFDT is affiliated to the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

The companies' divestment offer could lead to major destruction of jobs, the FCE-CFDT says. That is why the union has now asked both TotalFina chairman Thierry Desmaret and European commissioner Mario Monti for access to the dossier prepared by the company in response to the Commission's demands.

Jobs are an important consideration, as is town and country planning, the union insists. The Commission should therefore take full account of all these factors, and not just the competition rules, before reaching a final decision.

The FCE-CFDT says it will work with the European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers' Federation (EMCEF) to secure better legal information and consultation rights for European workers faced by corporate restructuring. It will also ask the French government to press for stronger EU legislation.