Car industry leaders demand more flexibility in working times

Frankfurt/Main. Car manufacturers are pressuring trade unions to introduce "openness clauses" in collective agreements to allow more flexibility in working times. The move comes ahead of negotiations with the metal and electrical workers associations.

At the most recent board meeting of the Automobile Industry Association (Verband der Automobilindustrie or VDA), president Bernd Gottschalk was asked to start an initiative. "We need more pragmatism," said the VDA chief.

Carl-Peter Forster, Adam Opel's chief executive officer, said collective agreements should be more flexible. The introduction of Opel's recent working time model, "30 plus," proves that it is possible to develop innovative concepts through direct negotiations with works councils, he said. The working week at the Ruesselsheim plant was cut to 30 hours to secure 1,200 jobs and save a few million euros.

Volkswagen, Porsche and DaimlerChrysler, which already work with flexible working-time models, also demanded action. VW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder believes that trade unions are moving in the right direction "but it is still too slow for my liking.'' VW is negotiating the concept of "demographic working times" with IG Metall: young people should work longer hours, older people should work less but instead make use of any time they may have banked previously.

DaimlerChrysler said that more flexible contracts are necessary to secure employees' pay. The head of personnel, Guenther Fleig, suggested "time corridors instead of fixed working times".

IG Metall Hanover's reaction to Continental boss Manfred Wennemer's demand to increase the working week to 45 hours shows how difficult the negotiations will become. In an open letter the union, he called the proposal "grotesque" and said "such stupidities are damaging to the economy."

However, the suppliers keep trying. Bosch chief Franz Fehrenbach is implementing a 40 hour week without wage adjustment. Webasto will soon introduce a "trust working time concept." The idea behind it: "Employees will be working more," said Webasto boss Franz-Josef Kortuem - but wages will remain the same.

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