BMW's Leipzig workers are flexible and paid less than other BMW workers

Leipzig, Germany. At its new factory in Leipzig, BMW is pushing flexibility for workers as well as the assembly line.

The workers' plan has two main parts:

  • Flexible working hours, adjusted for market demand.

  • Wages that are attractive in eastern Germany, one of the country's poorest regions. Wages in Leipzig are still lower than BMW plants in western Germany.

    "The BMW work formula is the answer to the question: 'How can you act in an economically meaningful way in Germany despite relatively high labor costs?'" said Rudolf Reichenauer, personnel and social welfare manager at the Leipzig plant.

    300 work plans

    Normally, production in an auto factory is based on a set number of working hours. Changes in demand can force a factory to use expensive overtime or reduce output, which leaves the plant with too many workers.

    In Leipzig, BWM approaches the problem differently.

    "The innovation isn't a working hours model per se, but the working hours system in total," Reichenauer said.

    Work time is divided into modular blocks. The blocks make it easy to quickly add, cancel, extend or shorten work shifts. In extreme cases, a change could be made almost immediately.

    For long-term changes in demand, BMW can choose from among 300 working-hour plans.

    "With the works council, we select the appropriate one for each period of operating capacity," said Reichenauer. "The period of notification in these cases is two months. That is not a problem at all, since the organizational adjustments also require this kind of notice."

    Wages 25% lower

    The Leipzig plant's 2,200 employees currently work 38 hours per week on average. Their annual salaries are about 25 percent less than those at other BMW factories in Germany. Some payments, such as a Christmas bonus, which most German companies pay their employees, have been eliminated.

    Reichenauer said: "What we aren't disturbing is our compensation principle of payment for performance."

  • Tags: Automakers BMW

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