GM’s Opel unit is faced with dwindling demand and wants to shorten workers’ hours at its Rüsselsheim plant, media from Reuters to Germany’s Manager Magazin report. Rüsselsheim makes the Opel Insignia, and for that, the rapidly deteriorating southern European markets are especially important, an Opel spokesman said. A shortened work week at Opel’s engine plant in Kaiserslautern is also being negotiated, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says. However, this is Germany, and it is not as easy as is sounds.
Shortened hours (they can be shortened all the way to zero,) called “Kurzarbeit” (“short work”) in German, are a temporary measure that allows to react to insufficient demand. Workers can be sent home without or with reduced pay, they will receive unemployment benefits of up to 67 percent of their normal pay, a government-funded jobs bank, if you will. So far, so good.
However, the measure needs to be approved, both by the paying government and the company’s works council. The negotiations will be difficult. Usually, the works council agrees to shortened hours, because the other alternative would be firings. Opel does not have that other alternative. There is a contract that forbids firings through 2014.
Works council, unions and government will ask uncomfortable questions. Opel’s Bochum plant currently works around the clock in three shifts, its works council chief Rainer Einenkel told the FAZ today. Oddly enough, that plant is under threat of closure once the contract allows it. The Rüsselsheim plant already worked only on 4 days of the week before shortened work was contemplated. I am sure commenters will have pat answers for that, the questions will come nevertheless.