Union busting, tax tricks, corruption: Harsh criticism of Fresenius from international trade unions

Ahead of the annual general meeting, trade unionists from around the world criticized poor working conditions at Fresenius and its international subsidiaries. The German DAX 30 company has long been criticized for tax evasion and corruption as well.

Ahead of the annual general meeting of Fresenius and Fresenius Medical Care (FMC), the Fresenius Global Union Alliance of trade unions from around the world, is sharply critical of the medical group. The accusation: The company violates basic employee and trade union rights worldwide. In addition, there are repeated cases of corruption and systematic tax evasion via well-known tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. "Maximizing profits on the employees’ backs, shifting the profits to tax havens and passing them on to shareholders in the form of ever-increasing dividends – Fresenius' top management is showing a clear pattern of behavior: profits come first, even if working conditions and quality of care suffer as a result," says Cordula Kiank of ver.di.

Fresenius management reported earnings before taxes totaling €4.6 billion for the past year, and the highest dividend ever paid by Fresenius was announced for the annual general meeting on 21 May 2021. The trade unions criticize that the employees pay the price for this result, demanding how the largest ever dividend can be paid out at the same time as massive structural cuts are announced. For the union alliance, only a Global Framework Agreement on the observance of worker and trade union rights would protect Fresenius employees worldwide.

Unions in Colombia report that over 1,000 union and community leaders have been assassinated in the last two years. A union president and Fresenius employee received an anonymous death threat. "Even after repeated requests, Fresenius has refused to publicly condemn the threat made during negotiations with the company. Nor has Fresenius spoken out or taken measures that guarantee not only my safety but that of any Fresenius worker who wants to exercise the right to freedom of union association”, said Claudia López Hernández President of Sintraclínica Medellín Union. At another Colombian facility, Fresenius did not comply with a Supreme Court order and refused to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. Workers report that their working conditions continue to violate government regulations and collective agreements. Criticism also comes from Brazil: The Brazilian trade union CNTSS complains of poor working conditions, lack of materials and equipment, excessively long working days, low wages, unpaid overtime and disregard for collective agreements at FMC clinics.

The grievances are not limited to South America. In California, Fresenius did not inform its employees at the beginning of the pandemic that they were treating Covid-positive patients, although the company was aware of it. Several caregivers and patients became infected. Local management also said it would terminate workers if they spoke to the union about Covid-19-related problems at FMC clinics.

In Poland, a union was formed in 2015 at FMC facilities over the systematic violation of workers' rights. Since then, management has used various tactics to block unionization. Despite confirmation of repeated violations by national authorities, management has not changed its behavior.

Another critique on the company’s corporate behavior came from the U.S., where the company had to pay $231 million in fines because investigations proved numerous bribes in 15 countries and the group did not keep its books clean in other countries. 2019, this resulted in FMC's managerial and supervisory boards receiving only 56.8% and 52.3% endorsement in a vote of the shareholders.

About the Fresenius Global Union Alliance

Over 50 trade unions from all over the world have joined the Fresenius Global Union Alliance, coordinated by Public Services International - PSI, UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union. German trade unions ver.di and IG BCE are members of the alliance. In Germany, the Fresenius Global Union Alliance provides information about the machinations of the German medical group through the "FreseniusWatch" initiative. One of the goals: A Global Framework Agreement to uphold employee and trade union rights for 280.000 workers in 100 countries.

Report on global tax evasion by Fresenius: