DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Hannelore Kraft, former state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, stepped down from the board of Thyssenkrupp’s largest shareholder, sparking fears that jobs might not be sufficiently protected in the event of a tie-up with Tata Steel.
Kraft said in an email she is no longer a member of the board of trustees of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, a philanthropic body that controls a 23 percent stake in Germany’s largest steelmaker, which has been in talks with Tata on merging their European operations to cut costs.
Trade unions and the works council that represents company workers fear such a joint venture will cost jobs.
Members of Kraft’s government had been critical of plans to merge the two group’s European steel operations, most notably the state’s former Economy Minister Garrelt Duin, who warned of a potential loss of influence over decisions that affect jobs.
Kraft, a member of the Social Democrats, said it was clear she should step down from June 30 once her mandate as state premier expired, having lost a state election in May.
Thyssenkrupp last week said it had no timeline for a final decision on a potential steel merger, which has drawn closer after Tata reached a deal on its UK pension liabilities earlier this month.
“We expect far-reaching management decisions in the near-term,” Wilhelm Segerath, head of Thyssenkrupp’s works council, said, adding it was unacceptable that the current government was not part of the foundation at a time of possible consolidation.
Segerath said it was key that Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westphalia’s current premier, sat at the table in light of the tens of thousands of steelworkers Thyssenkrupp employs in Germany’s most populous state.
A spokesman for the government said Laschet was in permanent contact with the group, adding the foundation was autonomous in they way it decides over who sits on its board of trustees, which currently has 10 members.
The foundation declined to comment.
Reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff; Writing by Christoph Steitz, editing by David Evans