GM's Opel: Workers, Go Home

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
gm s opel workers go home

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.

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  • Philadlj Philadlj on Aug 16, 2012

    It would be nice if factories and their workforces were flexible enough to only make enough cars to meet the demand of the often volatile market. That way, when times are lean and demand is low, both parties are prepared; they have an actual plan. What sense does it make to keep factories running when there's no one to buy the cars they're making? I understand factory workers need steady work, but they're not doing themselves any favors if that steady work leads to gross oversupply.

  • Pastor Glenn Pastor Glenn on Aug 16, 2012

    You're right, philadlj, and if you look back to "Government Motors" prior to the bankruptcy, you'd see many fully paid UAW types sitting around plants playing cards and collecting full paychecks, plus earning a good pension for the future. All of which is still in place, is it not? Which is obviously (duh!) one of the reasons that GM went bust. But the unions didn't care then - and their 'best buddies' in the administration made sure to pay the union bosses off - but good - in handing them a portion of GM (and Chrysler) - while exclusing the legally required first-in-line status of bondholders. Which essentially means to anyone with 2 brain cells, that we obviously no longer live in a nation of law - but of corruption. But back to GM Opel - and the fact that they have exactly this situation coming up. Biggest question of the day: Will Government Motors even be extant in 2014? I'm beginning to wonder. The world economy is not exactly red-lining and moving along. It's more like the ignition is turned off and the engine is still 'dieseling' along and rotating slowly, ready to finally stop..... obviously not a good thing. Time for another TTAC GM death watch, I'd say.

    • See 2 previous
    • CJinSD CJinSD on Aug 17, 2012

      @APaGttH The big difference is that Toyota was unencumbered by union work rules that would have prevented them from requiring their paid employees to work while the lines were idled. There is a huge difference between paying people to do nothing and paying them to do what is asked of them.

  • Mike Kelley Mike Kelley on Aug 17, 2012

    Speaking of Government Motors, here is an interesting article about the bailout and European problems: