Siemens Gamesa's flirt with Senvion raises concerns

Labor unions in Denmark, Germany and Spain are concerned about the possible outcome of Siemens Gamesa's talks to take over parts of Senvion's European onshore wind activities.
Photo: Senvion/Joerg Boethling, Hamburg, Germany
Photo: Senvion/Joerg Boethling, Hamburg, Germany

News emerged Monday that Senvion was in conclusive negotiations with Siemens Gamesa regarding a partial sale.

It's hard to say exactly which party was most enthusiastic about the announcement of the exclusive but non-binding talks concerning select European service and onshore wind operations. It can, however, be noted that Siemens Gamesa just barely lived up to Securities Market Law requirements by sending a short notice to Spain's stock exchanges. Meanwhile, the news appears an entire three times at the top of Senvion's website.

Although the prospective asset purchase is not being equally well-received across the sector. German labor union IG Metall Küste, where many of Senvion's German workers are organized, is among the deal's critics – despite a certain sense of hope regarding job continuity coming from the fact that Siemens Gamesa might soon buy the insolvent manufacturer's attractive service business as well as some of the onshore wind activities.

"Siemens Gamesa's announced partial acquisition of the company finally gives the employees a little clarity after months of waiting. However, the planned sale will only entail continued employment for 500 of these approximately 1,800 personnel in Germany," says IG Metall Küste District Head Meinhard Geiken.

2,000 employed in Portugal

It has already been announced that the 200 workers at Senvion's offshore wind turbine production in Bremerhaven will lose their jobs after New Year's. This is partly due to the fact that the German manufacturer has for years maintained only a marginal presence on the offshore wind market – and that business area is not part of the current negotiations.

Whether the same factory's onshore wind production is part of the deal remains uncertain. The same applies for Portugal, where Senvion employs around 2,000 staff, most of whom work at the nacelle factory in Oliveira de Frades and produce turbine blades at the facility in Vagos. The only indication of which assets Siemens Gamesa intends to buy is the stock exchange notice's mention of "selected Services and Onshore assets in Europe, free of financial debt [emphasis added, -ed.]."

It is unclear if Senvion's European factories fall under that category. If these indeed do, there will be a high degree of uncertainty about what Siemens Gamesa aims to achieve from gaining further production capacity. The German-Spanish wind OEM already has 11 European factories – the number remaining after several were eliminated after the 2017 merger.

Concerns from Denmark

The possible purchase is also furrowing brows in another site where Siemens Gamesa currently manufactures. For instance, in Northern Denmark's Aalborg, where a large part of the company's turbine blades are made. Even though many of these are for offshore wind turbines, the factory also makes onshore blades. When the blade factory in Engesvang, Denmark, closed in 2017, production was moved to the Aalborg factory.

"In extension of Siemens and Gamesa's merger, it's clear that the possibility of several production sites in close proximity gives cause for concern," says Benny Vinther Jensen, group chair Danish labor union 3F in Aalborg.

"It may very well be that mergers result in stronger businesses, but that is not positive in in all regards. In our experience, [mergers] don't exactly create jobs everywhere. So, we in Aalborg might be just fine, but then other sites would be impacted, and that could easily affect production jobs, particularly in Europe."

Spanish worries

Spain's largest labor union, Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), agrees with this assessment. Last year, Siemens Gamesa closed its blade factory in Miranda de Ebro as a part of slashing 6,000 jobs around the world, and CCOO expresses "fear" that the talks with Senvion have a hidden agenda to move production from factories in Somozas, Aoiz and Cuenca over the border to Portugal.

"CCOO wonders whether these negotiations will lead to macro-operation and relocation of production to [Portugal]," the union writes.

Thus, the union has demanded an emergency meeting with Siemens Gamesa's management to be made aware of what the possible purchase will mean for the company's Spanish labor force. The talks between the two wind OEMs are expected to conclude late this month.

According to Schleswig-Holstein's Minister of Economic Affairs and Bundesrat MP Bernd Buchholz (Free Democratic Party), the acquisition papers are planned to be signed on Sept. 26.

English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen

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