It seems Opel hasn’t exactly been overwhelmed by staff at its Bochum plant looking to head for the exit.
The GM Europe unit wants to axe a further 1,200 posts at its Bochum site, home to the successful C-segment Zafira minivan – in addition to the 600 employees who have already left the factory some 130 miles (220km) south of Russelsheim.
Such swingeing cuts form part of the GM division’s previously-announced plan of eliminating 8,000 jobs in Europe from a workforce of 46,000 – half of whom are based in Germany.
Such stringent medicine is needed if Opel is to address its losses of US$1.8bn – admittedly significantly down on initial projections of US$3bn – and to assuage any worries parent GM has.
To that end, only a few weeks ago at Geneva, GM CEO Dan Akerson made a very public show of support for then-Opel CEO Nick Reilly, who has since moved to take charge of GM Europe’s operations, but, lower losses or not, $1.8bn is still an awfully large gap to fill.
A GM Europe spokesman confirmed to just-auto today: “For the time being, we have not enough applicants to accept these programmes and we have to accelerate the job cut[s] because we have to have finished the restructuring of the Bochum plant by end of this year.”
Germany is emerging from the great recession far stronger and more quickly than most of its European neighbours – witness some of the seriously good numbers being posted by the traditional automaker powerhouses in the country – but Opel remains something of an ugly duckling.
The sweeteners Opel is offering to take voluntary redundancy sound generous enough – EUR100,000 severance pay is never to be sniffed at – but that’s for employees with more than 20 years experience and it’s unclear how many that would apply to.
And the chance for 300 employees to transfer to its Russelsheim plant is all very well but a 220km move is still quite an upheaval – even with EUR25,000 as a “one-time payment.”
Despite Germany’s relative boom, people are no doubt still feeling extremely cautious about doing anything to give up full-time employment, which may explain Opel employees’ reluctance to voluntarily step aside.
With the stand-off now established, both employee representatives and Opel have – under German law – to sit down with an independent arbitrator whose decision is binding.
Those powerful employee representatives now have Opel’s decision to “accelerate” the Bochum job cuts firmly on their radar, while Opel’s European works council is also taking a keen interest.
Given the extremely protracted and painful closure of its Antwerp plant last year – a decision that provoked uproar amongst Belgian politicians – the German automaker is likely to tread on eggshells as it implements the next stage of what it sees as an essential plank in its restructuring process back to profitability and echo Reilly’s Geneva comment.
“We will get profitable,” he said, adding: “In fact, I have set an internal target of getting to profit this year, which will be one year ahead of time.”
Which may in part explain Opel’s Bochum acceleration plan.