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February 4, 2011

COMMENT: Renault fightback provokes union scepticism

What to do if your brand has just taken the mother of all batterings in the global media, as juicy details of industrial espionage and secret services continue to fly?

What to do if your brand has just taken the mother of all batterings in the global media, as juicy details of industrial espionage and secret services continue to fly?

Well, Renault has come out all guns blazing with a tour de force of a new strategic plan in a bid to wrest control back of the media agenda and go on the front foot for once.

The French automaker has just issued a breathtaking shopping list of what it is doing and what it will do – particularly on the domestic front – but also with regard to its global allaince with giants Nissan and cooperation with Daimler.

But Renault may well have one eye on its ever-present unions as its future recruitment policy received a decidedly mixed reaction. The announcement of hundreds, possibly thousands of new jobs last week was welcomed by the more moderate CFE-CGC labour body as a “lifeline,” but others were more scepticial.

Some 1,600 new posts in engineering, 400 in manufacturing and 2,700 in what Renault terms “study contracts” could be phased in during the next few years, although the CFE-CGC has yet to formally ratify its approval.

To head off any opposition at the pass, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn specifically refers to manpower issues in his upbeat assessment of the next few years: “The mobilisation of the men and women producing our vehicles and powertrains is essential,” he said.

“Our strategic plan enables us to adjust industrial production capacity to global demand, without closing sites or implementing redundancy or staff departure plans.”

So far so good, but the far more militant Confederation Nationale du Travail (CGT) has popped up this week, expressing grave doubts concerning Ghosn’s emollient words.

In an exhaustive analysis of Ghosn’s plans, the CGT hierarchy casts several doubts on Renault ‘s recruitment numbers, focusing for example on the 400 new posts, insiting these would only happen if “competitive objectives” were met.

“To this day, management refuses to explain what these ‘competitive objectives’ are,” it said. “The recruitment of 400 people remains a hypothesis for the moment.”

The CGT says some 2,860 jobs are due to disappear, without taking into account retirements, deaths or resignations, while the 1,600 engineering posts it says, are only possible additions to replace those who leave through natural attrition.

Renault has come out fighting with a brave statement of intent, but it will certainly not be plain sailing as its unions pick over every nook and cranny of its deal with an extremely fine tooth comb.

Renault could do with putting some meat on the bones to assuage its unions’ seemingly suspicious default position.

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