Trade Unions and the Transformation of the Chemical Industry

The main conference in Hanover (September 13-16, 2022) focused on the joint development of demands. Following points were compiled from the previous expert meeting in Rome.

(1) Chemical industry as a key position
95% of all products in Germany are based on chemically manufactured basic components. This gives the chemical industry a major key position for the green transformation: if these basic components can be produced in a climate-neutral way, there would also be climate-neutral end products.
The holistic approach is also being pursued at the European level.
Unlike the energy industry, the chemical industry is under pressure from EU chemicals legislation. For example, in Italy, the company Novamont develops sustainable and green products that originate from the chemical industry and are classified as „chemical,“ thus making it impossible to use them in the food sector. In Germany, potato starch was used to produce wallpaper paste. A lengthy EU approval process led to cultivation in Canada. Research capacities are migrating out of Europe! Thus Europe cannot remain a solution provider!
In Croatia, there are no laws on the national level that hinder the green transformation. However, the EU legislation has to be implemented first. One problem in Italy is the high hurdles to get financial support for green projects in the chemical industry. In some EU-wide competitions for innovative ideas, companies were not even able to participate due to problems in the administrative structures. Securing funding for innovation projects through an EU-level competition is extremely challenging and uncertain for small countries. Targeted financial support is needed.

(2) Chemical industry as employer of the future?
In Croatia, the number of workers in the chemical industry will not be a problem. The focus must be on education and training of the skilled workers so that they can continue to work in a transformed sector. Financial resources are needed for this – they must come from the EU.

In Italy, there are mainly small and medium-sized companies. Education plays an important role there, too, because there are a lot of specialized requirements in the different companies.
In June, the collective agreement in the chemical industry was renewed and the importance of training as well as further education was emphasized. Qualifications are to take place bilaterally on a company and national level. In this way, skilled workers are to be prepared for the new conditions on the labor market and at the same time jobs are to be secured even in the transformed sector. It also requires digital training of employees, which must also be approached in a social partnership manner.

In Germany, the social dialog discusses a number of training places to be offered each year. Filling these places has proved difficult in recent years. The chemical sector is not considered an attractive workplace for young people. In order to counteract this, chemistry lessons must be made more attractive at school.
Within another EU project with the Czech Republic and Spain, demographic problems in the chemical industry were counteracted by making the chemical industry more attractive as a workplace for women.

Across the EU, it can be noted that the larger the companies, the more they plan for the shortage of skilled workers and the qualification requirements resulting from the green transformation. Thus, problems arise especially for small and medium-sized companies. Also because further education and training are always tied to financial resources. Here above all the education sector and thus also the trade unions are in demand!