- ThyssenKrupp Steel Group Management
- Head of the Staff Council of ThyssenKrupp Steel Bruckhausen
- IG Metall at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe
- Council of the City of Duisburg,
- Duisburg Police,
- District Government Düsseldorf,
- Ministry of Interior Nordrhein-Westfalen,
- Ministry for Labour, Health and Social Affairs, Nordrhein-Westfalen
- Federal State Government Nordrhein-Westfalen
- Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Dortmund
- Hubertus Heil, Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
Consequential investigation of Refat Süleyman’s death and an end of subcontracting across ThyssenKrupp-Steel Group and all other steel plants!
We, the Bulgarian residents of Duisburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, fellow East European migrant workers, labour union representatives, activists and concerned citizens from different parts of Germany and beyond, hereby alarm all relevant authorities and the public about the circumstances leading to the death of Refat Süleyman and the lack of accountability for and consequential investigation into it so far. The body of Refat Süleyman, a 26-year-old Turkish-origin Bulgarian citizen was found on the premises of the ThyssenKrupp plant in Bruckhausen on 17.10.2022 after a 3-day-long police search. After checking in for work in the early morning of 14.10.2022 Refat, recruited as a cleaner by an external agency just a few days earlier, was reassigned to a different subcontractor and then disappeared without a trace.
The circumstances around Refat’s death remain unclear to this day. The official statements provided by police authorities remain extremely vague. While pointing to a work related accident as a cause of death they fail to answer key questions that worry his former colleagues and the wider public. In large part these relate to the workplace protection and safety procedures observed in ThyssenKrupp-Steel, as well as basic labour rights and job standards in the cleaning industry.
Recently, the Coronavirus pandemic put a spotlight on the appalling work conditions of mostly East European migrant labourers in Germany’s meat industry. The situation in sectors such as cleaning, construction and delivery is equally dire. Subcontracting, the predominant form under which industrial cleaners are employed in ThyssenKrupp-Steel, is known to be a major cause for exploitative working conditions, poor supervision of labour standards (especially as contracts safety instructions are provided only in German language) and lacking accountability. More than one third of the East European migrant labourers in Duisburg are employed by temporary work agencies and/or abusive sub-sub-contracting arrangements that often mean twice as low income than in direct employment, job insecurity and usually no social security contributions.
Most importantly, cost cutting practices, increased labour flexibility and general work precarity raise the risk of on-the-job accidents and deaths. Notorious examples include the 2004 death of a worker in ThyssenKrupp-Steel plant in Duisburg, the seven ThyssenKrupp factory workers that burned alive in Turin (Italy) in 2007 and the fatally injured repair worker in ThyssenKrupp Fendorf earlier this year. There are likely to be many more than these known cases, which ThyssenKrupp Steel and other companies keep from the public through a ban on accident and death statistics.
Those who fall victim of such exploitative practices in cleaning and other service and production sector occupations are mostly EU workers from Eastern Europe whose free movement satisfies the needs of the low-waged and hyper-flexibilised tiers of the labour market. These migrants have extremely limited access to social security which makes them dependent on exploitative and low paid jobs. Additionally, East European migrants from minority backgrounds are often subjected to racializing stigmatizations that serve to justify and deepen their extremely underprivileged position with regards to labour, social and civic rights.
While the exact circumstances of Refat’s death remain obscure, there is no doubt that the poor working conditions produced by subcontracting affect workers’ health and safety, precondition conflicts between workers and supervisors and create an environment where accidents and abuse are prone to proliferate. These conditions must be taken into account and are directly relevant to the investigation of this tragic death. Changing these conditions is a vital first step towards ensuring more secure and protected work places for all workers in ThyssenKrupp plants in Germany.
Therefore, we demand the following:
(1) We insist that relevant supervision authorities, specifically the Work Protection Agency, carry out full inspection of the ThyssenKrupp premises in Bruckhausen, as well as all other ThyssenKrupp plants, to ensure that a decent working environment in industrial cleaning is established and the legally stipulated safety and health policies are abided by. We demand that measures for labour inspection, enforcement and penalties are secured and strengthened to ensure accountability and guarantee the elimination of health risks for all workers.
(2) We demand full investigation of the subcontracting chains employing ThyssenKrupp’s industrial cleaning personnel, their contractual practices, the security training and health checks they undergo and the formal and actual work duties that are imposed on workers. Specifically, a diligent check should be conducted into the operation of the subcontractors Eleman GmbH and OPS GmbH for whom Refat Süleyman was working, as well as of Buchen GmbH to whom he was reassigned just before he disappeared. Given the lack of responsibility and official engagement with the case that these entities have demonstrated, cooperation with them and any related subcontractors needs to be ended with immediate effect.
(3) Finally, as the current lack of consequences from Refat Süleyman’s death demonstrates, the use of subcontractors with their opaque contractual practices in the cleaning industry leads to a non-transparent web of actors. They circumvent occupational safety standards and effectively avoid liability and for accidents and deaths. Therefore, we demand an end to cooperation with subcontractors on all ThyssenKrupp plants and hiring of cleaning and other assistant personnel on regular contracts with secure working hours, with the necessary security training and health checks and on contracts guaranteeing social security contribution payments.
The Bulgarian residents of Duisburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, fellow East European migrant workers, labour union representatives, activists and concerned citizens from different parts of Germany and beyond, have demonstrated their determination to receive answers to these demands and will not give up until the circumstances of Refat Süleyman’s death are clarified and until those responsible are brought to justice and implement changes together with those affected. To put an end to the conditions that precipitated this tragedy and in order to prevent any further work-related accidents we call on the responsible health and safety authorities, ThyssenKrupp Steel and the entire steel sector to take decisive action. We demand an end to subcontracting across ThyssenKrupp and all other steel plants and the hiring of all assistant staff on regular contracts that ensure safe and healthy working conditions.