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March 4, 2003

BELGIUM: Disparaging British-French worker comparisons by senior executive don’t reflect facts – Toyota

Toyota’s European PR operation has had to engage full “damage control” after a Japanese executive, interviewed in the Financial Times, said the company’s British workers were lazy compared with their French counterparts.

By bcusack

Toyota’s European PR operation has had to engage full “damage control” after a Japanese executive, interviewed in the Financial Times, said the company’s British workers were lazy compared with their French counterparts.

Kosuke Shiramizu, board member in charge of global production, reportedly described the Brits as “picky”, said they indulged in job hopping and that the 4,400 workers at Burnaston, near Derby, who make Corollas and the Avensis should learn from colleagues in Valenciennes, northern France who build the Yaris.

Newspapers said that French managers immediately picked up on the comments and claimed that their workers combined a typical Gallic “art de vivre” with hard work.

According to the Daily Telegraph, after barely restraining their enraged workforce from downing tools in Burnaston, union leaders yesterday accused Shiramizu of “insulting” its British staff and called for immediate talks with Toyota.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the union Amicus, told the Telegraph: “The company has made no complaints to the union or any request for any extra flexibility. It makes you wonder what Toyota wants from its workforce.

“The real route to productivity improvements is through investment in training and new technology, not seeing who can run faster and burn out quicker.”

Shiramizu reportedly said that production at the Valenciennes plant near Lille was 20% higher than that at Burnaston.

He reportedly said: “In France there are many unemployed people and so those with jobs tend to work harder.”

According to the Telegraph, Claude Boulles, vice president at the French plant, said the recipe for achieving 20% higher productivity than in Britain was simple: “The French are what you call `polychronic’ – in other words we can work hard but at the same time enjoy ourselves unlike the Japanese or the Germans.”

But, the Telegraph noted, objective observers provided statistics to challenge Shiramizu’s sweeping statement. According to the World Markets Automotive productivity index, the factory at Burnaston, which made 211,000 cars last year, ranks as the third most productive car assembly plant in Europe. Lille does not even rank in the top 40.

On Tuesday, Toyota Motor Europe released a statement which said: “The views expressed in that interview were personal and do not reflect the policies or practices of the Toyota Motor Corporation nor the situation in Europe.

“Toyota holds all its members in the highest regard and is explaining to them that the comments made do not reflect the facts nor the opinion of TMC.

“Comparisons between plants are always difficult. There are huge differences caused by differing models, technologies and locations. Nonetheless, TMUK is often quoted as one of the most efficient plants in Europe.

“As a demonstration of TMUK’s commitment to quality and its key role within Toyota’s global production network, this autumn TMUK will commence export to Japan of its new Avensis.”

The statement cited Toyota Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd Managing Director Alan Jones as saying: “We are proud of our members and their commitment to the highest levels of quality. This is the first time a Toyota plant from Europe has begun exports to Japan and recognises our continuing development. We expect to export around 20,000 units annually.”

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