Washed out: As of December, soap from Riesa will finally be a thing of the past

After more than 100 years, Kappus is closing for good this year. Many female employees are still looking for a new job.

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Man sieht Mitarbeiter:innen protestieren.
A cross for every employee: the wooden crosses in front of the plant now indicate the approaching closure of Kappus in Riesa. © Sebastian Schultz

From Stefan Lehmann

Riesa. The first colleagues have long since left. "There are fewer and fewer every month," says works council member Sandra Dietrich, explaining once again the symbolism behind the wooden crosses that the union has tied to the fence outside the Riesa soap plant. One cross for each employee, everyone who has left gets a black ribbon. "At the end of the year, black ribbons will be hanging everywhere," says Sandra Dietrich before her eyes moisten.

Soap has been produced in Riesa since 1911; first as the GEG Seifenfabrik, and after reunification as part of the Kappus Group. This is to end at the end of the year. The action with the wooden crosses is intended to help the employees to come to an emotional conclusion, explains the works councilor. She herself has been with the company for nine years. "There have always been crises. But not in such a way that there was no money," she recalls.

Soap production in Riesa around 1970. Work was carried out here since 1911, at times producing several million bars of soap.© Stadtmuseum Riesa

Until five years ago. In September 2018, the company filed for insolvency for the first time. That was quite a shock, says Dietrich. After a year and a half, a buyer was found, and in May 2020 the Munich-based investment company Ad Astra took over Kappus. The end of the Riesa soap plant seemed to have been averted, and the workforce was delighted. With the pandemic, Kappus first made positive headlines.

Then came insolvency number two in 2022 - and about six months later the news: Kappus is closing its plant in Riesa. An improved collective agreement had been signed only a short time earlier. Accordingly, even the trade unionists of the IGBCE by the news that the Riesa plant would have to close. "This is a very sad moment here," says trade unionist Oliver Ehlert, "because we didn't manage to save the company." After all, he says, the Riesa "soap" is not just any company. Even as a Dresden resident, he has known the company since childhood, says Ehlert. And for many colleagues, he said, working there was more than just a job. "It's bitter that we didn't manage to make a reasonable social plan for the employees because of the insolvency."

Oliver Ehlert also criticizes the decision to close the eastern German plant and keep the site in Baden-Württemberg. We see this time and again when companies are faced with such a decision. On the one hand, it is understandable that the shirt fits closer than the skirt. On the other hand, many of the eastern German locations were also cheap workbenches for a long time. Politics also played its part in this. Only slowly is he sensing a change in thinking.

"Everyone continues to do their job here," says Sandra Dietrich. Even after the announced closure, she says, no one called in sick. "Although there are days when you ask yourself, what am I still doing this for?"

Works council chair Sandra Dietrich in front of the soap plant.© Sebastian Schultz

Most of the employees standing outside the plant on Tuesday are approaching retirement. "I would have had two more years until retirement at 63," says a woman in white work clothes. That's the way it is for many, she says. Most of them are just before the age of 60. Will she be able to find another job, especially at a collectively agreed wage? She herself is rather skeptical. A good three quarters of the employees at the gate of the plant are women. It seems that the men find it easier to find new work, says works council member Sandra Dietrich. She is still looking herself.

The electricians in particular had it comparatively easy. She knows of colleagues who now work at Cargill in Riesa. Others who previously commuted from Döbeln or Großenhain have found something new in their place of residence. "We hope that one or the other is still interested in former soap workers." From chemical workers to laboratory technicians and technicians to logistics and accounting, the job profiles that are active here range.

Production still continues in Riesa. Once there were six million bars of soap, some of which were exported as far as Australia - both under the Kappus name and as discount products. In the meantime, less is produced. The factory sales department closes in September, while work continues in the factory until November 30. After that, the plant will be dismantled, says Sandra Dietrich. Some machines will be moved to Heitersheim, the remaining Kappus site. The technology may be old, but it works. Then it washed out in Riesa.

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