Back in July, I brought you news of some rather significant strife occurring within the walls of Pelikan’s Vöhrum factory, the production facility where the company manufactures its fine writing instruments. Workers at the plant, a force numbering approximately 230 strong, had staged a public demonstration in order to protest and bring awareness to several perceived injustices. Christmas bonuses not yet paid in full and June’s wages being delayed contributed to tensions boiling over. Imagine that scenario playing out in an environment where employees have already given up five days of vacation and 15% of their collective wages in a bid to keep their jobs. Concerns had also previously been put forth about a lack of investment in the plant itself. Of course, none of this news made much of a splash outside of the local papers but the post here exposed the issues to a larger audience and generated a lot of conversation about the health of the factory and the future of Pelikan’s fine writing division, not only on this blog but on many of the pen forums as well. I have frequently been asked for updates on the situation and have continued to monitor the news out of Germany. There hasn’t been much to report until now. If you recall from my original post, works council chairman Walter Dettmer had called upon Hubertus Heil (SPD), Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, to get involved in the dispute. A trip to the Peine-Vöhrum plant was scheduled for mid-August and occurred as planned just a few weeks ago. Thanks to some local reporting, I can update you with some of the goings on at that meeting.
On Thursday, August 19th, Hubertus Heil (SPD), shown in the photo to the right, paid a visit to Pelikan’s factory. He is certainly no stranger to the area or the brand, having grown up in the region, which is one of the reasons he readily accepted the invitation to hear out the concerns of the workforce and to better assess their needs. Mr. Heil is currently serving in the fourth cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel and has been in his current position since March 2018. Accompanying him on the visit was a somewhat large gathering of interested parties; commercial plant manager Ranier Niermann, works council chairman Walter Dettmer, union secretary Cihan Yüksel, district councilor Henning Heiss, technical plant manager Harald Schmidt, Thomas Zwiebler (SPD Vöhrum), and the mayor of Peine, Klaus Saemann (SPD). Mr. Heil was on site to investigate first-hand the unrest that has gripped the factory which culminated in a meeting held behind closed doors on the premises. The President and CEO of the company, Loo Hooi Keat, also participated from his location in Malaysia via video conference. After the meeting, Mr. Heil spoke with reporters. Paraphrasing his comments, he related that the situation was not an easy one but also that the mood was not one of doom. The discussions, as he characterizes them, were ‘solution oriented’ based on the reporting of Jörg Kleinert in the Peiner Nachrichten. The overall take home message seemed to be that Mr. Loo Hooi Keat was intent on maintaining the factory location in Vöhrum.
The developments sound positive thus far though solutions are still yet to be fully developed and implemented. The parties walked away with a list of action items that need follow up and another meeting was tentatively set up for some time in October. Mr. Heil, in his statements, stressed that Mr. Loo Hooi Keat needed to make some serious decisions about investment in the plant. It seems there was some suggestion that state and federal government support could assist with that endeavor, but only after clear agreements are reached beforehand. For his part, Mr. Loo Hooi Keat appeared to decry the ongoing burdens of the pension fund which currently sets the company back by about three million euros ($3,565,050) annually. Ten years ago, the fund consisted of approximately 2,000 employees at a cost of six million euros ($7,130,100) annually, so the burden has lessened over time but is still not insignificant. Mr. Heil did rightly emphasize that the social obligation that the company owed to past employees could not be avoided. To conclude the day, Mr. Heil and party were afforded a factory tour.
Pelikan’s production facility in Peine-Vöhrum
I was hopeful that when Pelikan International sold their logistics center to free up capital, that some of the funds generated would find their way to the Vöhrum factory instead of shareholder’s pockets. Based on the available reporting, I’m not so sure that has been the case thus far. Still, it’s encouraging to hear the measured though seemingly optimistic tone coming out of the recent meeting. Works council chairman Walter Dettmer was quoted afterwards as saying, “The workforce hopes that with political support and the prospect of state aid, clarity for the future can be created.” I’m sure that we are all hopeful that such support might spur the company to take the appropriate steps necessary to shore up the factory and preserve the brand’s 183 year heritage in Germany. It would appear that the ball is in Mr. Loo Hooi Keat’s court.