September 18, 2018 / 10:57 AM / a year ago

Thyssenkrupp overhaul must protect worker interests - labour boss

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Thyssenkrupp (TKAG.DE) employees will not block a restructuring of the group as long as their interests are protected, its newly elected works council chief said.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of ThyssenKrupp AG is pictured outside the ThyssenKrupp headquarters in Essen, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen/File Photo

Thyssenkrupp is looking for a new chief executive and chairman after the group’s two top bosses quit in July following pressure from activist shareholders. It is also trying to work out whether its conglomerate structure is still the best way forward for the submarines-to-elevators group.

“We are open for meaningful solutions. I will not back a restructuring of the company against the interests of employees,” Dirk Sievers told Reuters.

The 47-year-old succeeds Wilhelm Segerath, who is stepping down after nearly seven years on grounds of age, and will also take over his seat on Thyssenkrupp’s 20-member supervisory board, half of which is controlled by worker representatives.

“I’ve been with the company for 31 years. During that period there have always been asset sales, acquisitions and restructuring moves,” Sievers said.

“We don’t see structures as sacrosanct - provided employees’ interests are safeguarded and there is a long-term perspective for workers and the business.”

Shares in the group were up 1.5 percent at 1138 GMT.

Activist investor Cevian, Thyssenkrupp’s second-largest shareholder, has long argued in favour of an overhaul that would give the group’s individual businesses greater freedom, making it easier to explore structural options if they make sense.

“Capital has to come from somewhere. If an investor accepts that workers and society do have justified interests then I don’t have a problem with that. But I’m opposed to investors that do not understand social market economy.”

In May, U.S. fund Elliott disclosed it had taken a stake of less than 3 percent in Thyssenkrupp, stoking fears of a break-up among its nearly 160,000 workers, but Sievers said those fears were overblown.

“I haven’t met them (Elliott). But they’re certainly not the decisive problem. We have other problems. I can sleep well knowing that they own a stake.”

On media speculation that a planned deal to combine Thyssenkrupp’s European steel unit with that of India’s Tata Steel (TISC.NS) could be unwound eventually, Sievers said that the transaction was irreversible.

The deal, signed in late June after nearly two years of negotiations, will create the continent’s second-largest steelmaker after ArcelorMittal (MT.AS).

“The signing is done, the preparations are going on. At the moment, the carve-out is taking place,” Sievers said. “There is no going back.”

Writing by Christoph Steitz; editing by Thomas Seythal and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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