Stop the hunt for the sick! Stop the hypocrisy!

On November 17, 2023, the OGBL Steel and Mining organized a picket in front of the ArcelorMittal site in Differdange after four dismissals due to illness. For the OGBL, ArcelorMittal’s management has crossed a red line, and more than 150 employees and OGBL militants gathered to show their disagreement with this decision and to demand the reinstatement of the unfairly dismissed colleagues.

We must also point out that ArcelorMittal is not fulfilling its social dialogue obligations. The company did not even inform the OGBL delegates that it was planning to dismiss workers from the “Train Grey”, which employs about 300 of the almost 800 workers at the Differdange site. It was the employees who informed us. We know that the other syndicate was informed of the talks by the management, but not the OGBL. Is this to prevent our representatives from being informed and to keep us out? To prevent us from properly defending workers? Make up your own mind…

The OGBL denounces this hunt for the sick

In accordance with the tradition of the Luxembourg steel industry, the OGBL has always preferred the path of dialogue, seeking direct contact with the ArcelorMittal management in order to avoid redundancies and to reverse these decisions. Unfortunately, we were avoided or ignored. The few answers we received were not satisfactory: the redundancies would be limited to a single department and there would be no others. Nevertheless, these dismissals are fully approved and supported by the decision-makers. The company does not want to change its position and wants to let the courts do their work. That’s easy to say when you can afford the most expensive lawyers in the country.

The situation and the few answers we’ve received force us to act, as employee representatives and above all as steelworkers! We can’t just sit back and wait for the courts to decide the fate of our colleagues. For the majority of the dismissed, this was their first meeting and ArcelorMittal did not give them a chance. What’s more, our colleagues were not summoned during their sick leave, let alone after 6 months of sick leave, as some would have us believe. It was all very underhanded! It was either at the time of returning to work after a long illness or just after a short absence.

The OGBL denounces the hypocrisy of the ArcelorMittal group

We have also been told that ArcelorMittal justifies these dismissals by claiming that the workers are being dismissed to protect them from the steel industry! The world is upside down! ArcelorMittal seems to forget that behind these employees there are also families who are victims of a decision aimed solely at punishing sick workers. But what are the causes of these illnesses? Nobody wants to ask this question, except the OGBL.

ArcelorMittal’s management seems to forget that workers do not get sick for fun. Our colleagues would rather be healthy and able to work. They were monitored by the company’s occupational health department, and the pathologies and causes were well known. That is why the OGBL was surprised and shocked to see that ArcelorMittal was organizing pre-dismissal talks and, above all, that it was maintaining these dismissals after the facts had been revealed.

Work still makes you sick

For the OGBL, these employees are sick because their working conditions have made them sick! All too regularly, we point out the problems and demand solutions, workplace adjustments and investments. Unfortunately, our requests are too often denied or forgotten.

Just recently, managers ignored the plight of workers on overhead crane manipulators. Some even had to take sick leave! We also sent an open letter to ArcelorMittal management denouncing the unacceptable behavior of a manager. We asked the employer to take concrete measures to investigate and stop the excesses. What these two events have in common is that they took place at the “Train Grey” in Differdange, the same department to which our four dismissed colleagues belong! Where is the social responsibility of the company? Where is the respect for the commitments made by ArcelorMittal in the framework of the tripartite agreements?

We note that these dismissals have taken place in sectors that have long been understaffed! During preliminary interviews, management was never able to provide concrete examples of the impact of sick leave on absenteeism. There is no connection between the two. This doesn’t change the fact that sick leave is more indicative of understaffing in the sectors. And that is the snake that eats its own tail, because it leads to more sickness and more employee malaise.

ArcelorMittal employees are not doing well

Surveys show and confirm this. We know that many employees receive professional help. The OGBL had asked the company’s occupational medicine department a simple question: “Are ArcelorMittal employees well?” The answer was as clear as it was short: “NO”. Despite the fact that the answer was heard by management, we see no improvement.

ArcelorMittal’s management establishes “golden rules” that all employees must respect, such as “If I don’t feel well, I will stay at home, consult my doctor and follow his recommendations”, “In the event of restrictions or adjustments to the workplace, I will respect the recommendations of the occupational physician”, “Before work, I have had enough sleep, I am rested”. The employees in question followed these rules and were still punished and fired. Are these rules just there to absolve ArcelorMittal of any responsibility? Today we see that the rules are mainly used to punish employees.

Not long ago, we agreed with management to meet again to take stock and try to find common solutions to the increasing number of cases of illness. The issue is not taboo and needs to be analyzed in depth to determine the causes of these illnesses and how they relate to work. Today, we have no choice but to note that these dismissals are nullifying these commitments.

The hunt for the sick

We must also make the connection with other facts. ArcelorMittal has not digested the fact that the OGBL successfully blocked the introduction of sickness-related penalties in the last collective agreement. Moreover, ArcelorMittal’s management is constantly calling for the introduction of sick days in Luxembourg. Not paying sick workers will not prevent them from getting sick.

The will and the intentions are clear. ArcelorMittal attacks the patient, never the disease and even less the cause of the disease. For the OGBL, the intention is to set an example and create a climate of fear that forces employees to come to work sick for fear of being next. The human factor no longer counts, only the result.

All of this is taking place in a more than favorable context. ArcelorMittal is coming off two years of record profits in Luxembourg, and 2023 looks to be a very good year. The production stoppages are not caused by the workers. They are mainly due to unreliable equipment, logistical problems or lack of investment. Nevertheless, ArcelorMittal’s human resources department regularly analyzes absenteeism according to the “Bradford” factor. This is no longer a person who evaluates situations, but an inhuman mathematical formula. The company would do better to ensure that existing agreements are applied, that staffing levels are respected according to organizational charts, that departures are anticipated, and that coverage rates are adapted to changes in the law. We’re not even talking about hiring and training managers.

This picket is a first step, a warning to the ArcelorMittal group.

The OGBL Steel and Mining demands an end to this sickout, the reinstatement of the dismissed workers and, above all, the search for real solutions that will allow colleagues to continue working at ArcelorMittal.

The OGBL will continue to support the employees in all their efforts and will continue to support all those who have been subjected to aggression, intimidation or provocation. In this regard, we urge all employees to report any abuse, harassment and inappropriate remarks through the appropriate channels.

The OGBL Steel and Mining will continue to defend these positions and confront the Group’s decision-makers. More than ever, ArcelorMittal must face up to its responsibilities. A company that employs more than 3,000 people in Luxembourg has the size and the means to do better. It has a duty to help its employees. If the company does not change its attitude, we will be forced to continue our actions and bring them closer to the decision-makers.

The article was published in the December edition of Aktuell.