Last month Hyundai agreed to a union demand to end night shifts in the company’s Korean factories but it added graveyard shifts to their American plants. In Europe and North America third shifts are returning as companies try to wring out the maximum number of vehicles from their existing capacity. In August, Jaguar Land Rover added a third shift at its Liverpool plant to keep up with demand for the Evoque. In North America, the big American car companies shed lots of excess plants as they went through their financial crisis and to keep up with the rebound in sales as the economy starts to grow they have added night shifts to many of their assembly operations.
Ron Harbour, a consultant for the Oliver Wyman firm, says that historically only 10-15% of North American car-assembly plants have run night shifts. That figure fell to 9% in 2009 but has risen to 40%. European plants have historically had more third shifts, about 50%, but that figure dropped to 29% in 2006. However it has again started to rise, currently at 35%.
Eurofound, an EU agency that studies work and living standards, has published studies that show that night shifts have risen steadily in Germany, and begun to rise again in the UK but there are fewer night shifts in France, Spain and Italy.
The auto industry is ideal for working around the clock because of the capital investment in expensive machinery operated by relatively few employees. In wealthy, highly unionized countries, workers like night shifts. They provide jobs and usually a shift premium. In Germany, night workers’ shift premiums are tax-free.