three green bullets

Building bridges between employee representatives

"When Hydro expands so quickly that it suddenly has at least as many employees in Brazil as in Norway, we employee representatives obviously have a big job to do - on several levels," says Sten Roar Martinsen.
Portrait of Sten Roar Martinsen
Sten Roar Martinsen (Photo: Hydro)

Martinsen is leader of the Karmøy local of the Norwegian Industri Energi union and also sits as an employee representative on Hydro's board of directors. After Hydro's acquisition of the majority of Vale's aluminium business in Brazil in 2011, Martinsen and other employee representatives have made several trips to Brazil and met with new colleagues.

"We have had to establish formal structures in order to work closely with our new colleagues. This has now been achieved through a global framework agreement. We already had a similar agreement in place at the European level. This is a necessary tool to promote employee participation and cooperation," he emphasizes.

Practice what we preach

"Hydro's corporate culture, which includes a close dialogue between management and employees, is not so common in many other places in the world. So we have to familiarize others with this model in order to build confidence. A basic premise is that what the company says, it follows through on!

Having said that, there is also a great deal that we employee representatives can learn from each other regarding cooperation and participation. We are also largely concerned with the same issues, for example related to energy," says Martinsen.

He also stresses that social dialogue is a hallmark of Hydro's relationships with employees and local communities and that this is a concept that must be filled with specific content.

"I think we are making good progress. When it comes to health, safety and environment there are a few actions that can be taken immediately: to show that these are core values. At the same time we need to convince our new colleagues that some goals require that we work together over the long haul.

A tradition of caring

"Through the social dialogue several issues have been raised and Hydro has been asked to contribute. Employee housing is one such issue and I certainly understand why this has come up," continues Martinsen.

"Hydro should get involved and do something in this area. Our colleagues in Brazil have rightly pointed out the company's more than a century long tradition of caring about employees' living conditions. We see a recent example in Qatar where Hydro has built a small town for the employees at the Qatalum aluminium metal plant. This is on the way to becoming a benchmark."

"In Paragominas in Brazil a number of requests for improvements have been mentioned: school, waterworks, cultural center, football stadium .... As employee representatives how do you think Hydro should proceed?"

"We expect that Hydro will evaluate such needs and wishes in their planning. The company can help in several ways, first and foremost by starting a dialogue with local authorities and other stakeholders. Those who are closest to the needs should be the ones to set priorities.

Maintain and enhance cooperation

"How will you employee representatives proceed now?"

"Work will continue on several levels. We must maintain the contact that has been established. We want to arrange for the Brazilian employee representatives to visit Norway and familiarize themselves with how we work and cooperate here, both centrally and locally at the plants. I believe maintaining good contact will be beneficial for everyone. In addition, we have discussions ongoing between Norwegian trade unions in the industrial and energy sectors about getting involved in one or more of the social projects that will be initiated in Brazil. This is completely in line with our fundamental approach to solidarity," says Sten Roar Martinsen.

Updated: March 22, 2012
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Building bridges between employee representatives



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