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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Ecopla, l’incompréhensible blocage d’une reprise en Scop

by Stéphane Guérard

ECOPLA: incomprehensible blockage of the transfer of ownership into a SCOP (workers cooperative)

Translated Sunday 13 November 2016, by Anne Sanders

Yesterday employees worked in relays to occupy the industrial site on the slopes of the Chartreuse mountains

The employees of the last-remaining French manufacturer of aluminium foil containers for food packaging have suggested that they resume production as a cooperative. Despite having a strong case, the Grenoble commercial court, which deals with trade disputes, has decided to cede the ECOPLA manufacturing unit to one of its competitors, leaving jobs on the scrapheap.

At Ecopla, the last-remaining French manufacturer of aluminium foil containers for food packaging, everything is ready for production to start up again. Big names in the food industry are just waiting for the production lines to resume operation, for their ready meals, frozen foods and cakes. One phone call, and the first materials can be delivered. Six tons of metal are waiting at a supplier in Normandy, who is also in difficulties. They just need the go-ahead, and the 25 employees, prospective buyers into the factory in Saint-Vincent-de-Mercuze, in Isère, can put their unique expertise into action. The statutes of their workers cooperative (SCOP) have been on paper for a long time. The same goes for the consortium, their scheme set up in two months flat and supported by five financial institutions. A new investor has just agreed to put in 150,000 euros. All the towns and communes of the area, all the local elected officials are on board to support the relaunch of production. Everything is therefore ready so that one of the last-remaining industrial sites of the Grésivaudan valley, between Grenoble and Chambéry, can start up again with renewed vigour, and with the aim of generating thirty extra jobs within three years.

A legal decision which flies in the face of local campaigns

Nevertheless, the machinery can be confiscated at any time and the employees sent to the Job Centre once and for all. Ecopla is completely at the mercy of the commercial court of Grenoble. For the moment, and despite campaigns by the employees and the whole region, which have even reached the Ministry for the Economy, the judges concerned have not budged since their decision on 16th June. Despite the offer of a takeover by the employees, consisting of 100,000 Euros for the machinery plus only about twenty jobs safeguarded out of 77 and about a hundred related jobs retained in the aluminium sector and services, the court has preferred that of their direct Italian competitor, Cuki Cofresco. This consists of 1.5 million Euros to take over the machinery and to sell off the rest. This sum of million and a half has not just been plucked out of thin air. It represents exactly the cost of the closure and redundancies under the terms of the guarantee of salaries(AGS). For the Italian business, itself in difficulties, it is nothing but gain. A competitor is killed off, while siphoning off its expertise and client base. The legal decision can be put in to action at any moment. Yet, up till now, Cuki Cofresco has only had to lay out a guarantee of 150,000 Euros.

Apparently the judges in Grenoble have justified this by saying that “the duty of the commercial court is not to defend jobs, but the creditors. “ “Ecopla is asking a fundamental question about the management of this sort of situation by the commercial courts,” says Meryem Yilmaz, of the Rhone-Alpes Regional Union of Scop, which supports the transfer of ownership by the cooperative. Ever since the end of 2014, the employees have been warning the court about the reality of the situation at the business. They have never been listened to.” Ever since, there has been negligence. The Public prosecutor’s department has refused to appeal. There is “no argument for that”, she says. Only a final procedure of “third party opposition” can still change the situation.

Yesterday the employees were still taking turns to occupy the industrial site on the slopes of the Chartreuse mountains. “Someone said in 2012 that the enemy is finance. That is indeed the case with Ecopla. What we say, is that our friend is work." says Christophe Chevalier, union rep of the CGT, who was at the origin of the project of workers cooperative takeover. In 2013, Ecopla had a turnover of 20 million Euros. Three years later, verging on insolvency, only a third remained. Over three years the umpteenth takeover manager of this former subsidiary of Pechiney dug into its assets to sell at a loss to other production sites and to buy back material from another factory in Germany. The rogue shareholder even gave himself a salary of 60,000 Euros at the start of the year, when he did not even have enough money to buy the raw materials needed for the factory to function. “After Ecopla, we want the law to be changed”, says Christophe Chevalier. “How is it that in a case when a relaunch of production is possible, money is put before jobs?”

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