Over 30,000 DaimlerChrysler employees in Germany stopped work on Thursday to protest plans by the carmaker to make Mercedes staff work longer, employee representatives told the Reuters news agency.

DaimlerChrysler’s works council told the news agency that some 20,000 workers at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart took part in a protest that started early this morning, joining 3,000 night-shift colleagues who walked out in Hamburg, Berlin and Duesseldorf – around 10,000 walked out at Untertuerkheim, another Mercedes site near Stuttgart, one of Germany’s wealthiest regions.

Reuters noted that DaimlerChrysler is seeking to save €500 million ($US617.5 million) in annual personnel costs at Mercedes, its most profitable unit, but employee representatives have so far agreed to measures yielding only €180 million.

The group reportedly said on Monday it might cut 6,000 jobs at the Sindelfingen plant and shift some production of the new C-class Mercedes model within Germany and abroad if employees continued to oppose deeper cost cuts.

The dispute comes as pressure mounts on western European employees to work longer and take fewer holidays to prevent jobs disappearing to cheaper locations in less developed economies, Reuters said.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

DaimlerChrysler is following a lead set by manufacturing and technology giant Siemens, which last month clinched a deal with trade unions to raise working hours at two German plants to 40 hours a week from 35 without extra pay, the report added.

According to Reuters, French president Jacques Chirac said on Wednesday French workers should be able to work more than 35 hours a week and told the government to hold talks with companies and unions about easing restrictions on work time to boost competitiveness.

DaimlerChrysler’s works council reportedly said the disruption at Sindelfingen could mean the company loses production of about 800 vehicles on Thursday.

According to Reuters, union officials expect as many as 80,000 DaimlerChrysler workers to take part in the nationwide protest on Thursday.

At Daimler’s Untertuerkheim plant, employees reportedly railed against Mercedes chief Juergen Hubbert’s comments that the wage agreements in the company’s home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg were a “disease”.

“We thought about bringing protective masks or setting up a vaccination stand today, since there’s apparently a disease circulating around here. And that’s our wage agreements!” one union representative called out to the crowd of thousands of workers that filled up Karl-Benz-Square in front of the plant, Reuters said.

One Daimler employee who has been with the company for 19 years reportedly said management should look elsewhere for cost savings: “We generate profits at Mercedes and they say we’re the ones who are sick? And what about Mitsubishi and Chrysler — are they healthy?”

According to Reuters, one of the stumbling blocks is the company’s attempt to end a 30-year old agreement giving workers the right to a five-minute break from the production line every hour.

In practice, the breaks are no longer taken individually but saved up and tacked onto annual holiday, the report noted.

“You take away our breaks, we’ll take away your peace and quiet,” read one of the placards at the Sindelfingen protest, Reuters said.

According to the news agency, the company has threatened to move production of the new C-class, due in 2007, to its more efficient Bremen plant in northern Germany and to its East London factory in South Africa and would drop plans to build derivative models.

Daimler sold about 281,000 of the C-class models last year, making the Mercedes mid-sized luxury car one of the brand’s two top selling lines, Reuters said.

The works council told the news agency that, on Saturday, the company reportedly lost production of more than 1,000 vehicles after about 12,000 workers in Sindelfingen failed to show up for their shift to protest against the cost-cutting plans.