Adiós España, hallo Deutschland!
The Galmed plant in the Spanish town of Sagunto is closing. 55 employees have taken up the offer of relocating to ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe locations in Duisburg, Dortmund, and Siegerland in Germany.
The Merlos’ living room has been transformed into a warehouse. Cardboard boxes are stacked up almost to the ceiling. Time for the container to come; father, mother, and two daughters are ready to start their new life. “We have waited so long,” says Juan Ramón, 46. “Now it’s time for a change.” His daughters Delia and Tania, 13 and 16, are poring over a floor plan of the model apartments that ThyssenKrupp has offered them. His wife Marisol, 42, is scouring the city map for the bar where she got her first taste of German pilsner beer during her scouting trip in October. “I definitely want to go back there!”
The offer of moving to Germany was the best news that the family had received since they discovered in February that the Galmed hot dip galvanizing line in Sagunto in Valencia province was closing. Under the social plan, employees have the opportunity to transfer to locations in Duisburg, Dortmund, and the Siegerland. 55 of the 167 employees from Galmed are taking the plunge. The others have either settled for a severance package or taken early retirement. Juan Ramón Merlos did not need much time to think about the offer of moving to Germany. A little bit more work was required when it came to convincing Tania. But now she has warmed to the idea and is looking forward to starting life in a new country.
From the Office to the Blast
Furnace Merlos is making one last visit to the plant. There are still a few coils of sheet metal packed in blue plastic by the entrance door waiting to be collected; his colleague Ramón García Baeza is sorting documents in the control room. The former Works Council member is one of those who decided to stay. His 79-year-old mother lives with his family; he couldn’t expect her to move to another country. Both men pat each other on the back and shake hands before Merlos takes one last look at the conveyor belts. The mechanic worked on the zinc bath for eight years before transferring to the maintenance department two years ago. Now he is making the switch back from the office to shift work. He will be working on the blast furnace at the melt shop in Duisburg-Hamborn. Almost all former Galmed employees will be getting new jobs depending on the location. If there are problems with communication, Spanish-speaking colleagues are available to help out. “We are giving every new employee a mentor, one who will lend a hand over the first few weeks – both in their work and everyday life.” says Miguel Martin-Pelegrina from the Steel Europe HR department.
The task of relocating 55 employees from another country was a first for ThyssenKrupp, and one that they prepared for intensively. Working together with the recruitment agency PEAG, the Group developed a three-week integration program. In small groups, employees are given information on the healthcare and education system, how to open a bank account, and adding credit to their canteen card. Eliezer Dias from the HR policy team meets almost all of the ‘newbies’ in person. He helped organize their initial scouting trip and often traveled to Sagunto as the point of contact. The line in front of the office kept getting longer, the questions more specific: Can I bring my motorcycle? The dog? And time and time again: When can we start? “At first the people were shocked about the closure, then angry, then sad – now they are motivated.”
Eva Catalá Peña’s anger also gave way to excited anticipation. The administration clerk anxiously moves about her almost empty office. Since she’s single, she will be in the first of three groups to head to Germany. The 34-year-old has already lived in Dublin for a few months, not to mention Guangzhou, China, but this move is still a major step. Like most of the other people from Sagunto, she doesn’t yet speak any German. “I will be speaking English and Spanish in the International Sales department at the Duisburg-Hamborn location, but what if I get sick?” Dias reassures her. The intercultural training section of the integration course will contain language lessons so employees can start learning German in a fun way.
Olive Oil as a Cure for Homesickness
Tuition will get underway shortly after work begins before Christmas: Employees will receive 100 hours of German classes via the company. Afterward, they will be eligible to participate in the federal government’s 600 hour integration program in collaboration with PEAG. An offer which Ricardo Morales Sania, 27, intends to make the most of. Within a year, the technician hopes his German will be good enough that he will be able to complete the electrical engineering degree that he started in Valencia. Lofty ambitions, Morales knows that, but he wants to take advantage of the opportunity.“Unfortunately, I do not see a future for myself in Spain.”
If the ‘Germany experiment’ should fail, the expats have four years in which to withdraw from their contracts and take the option of a compensation package, which decreases over time. But nobody is thinking about that. Merlos assures us that “we will stay here until I retire,” as he drags the last of the cardboard boxes into the living room. He has also brought a small piece of Spain with him so his family does not get homesick: two legs of Serrano ham, 15 liters of olive oil – and the scarf of the Spanish national soccer team. And who will the Merlos family be cheering for during the World Cup next year? “Spain and Germany in the group phase, that’s for sure!” That’s a good start already.