HAMBURG, Germany -- Labor market experts warned Volkswagen AG on Friday not to bow to union demands to guarantee the 103,000 jobs in its western German plants for the next 10 years.
Promising to maintain jobs in return for curbs on pay was in principle a good thing, but a decade-long employment vow would be "completely absurd", Joachim Scheide, head of the economics section at the prestigious IfW think tank, told Reuters.
No company can know how much and where it will be producing in 10 years, he said.
Pledging to employ 100,000 workers for 10 years would be "negligent and irresponsible to a high degree", added Wolfgang Meining, head of automotive studies at the University of Bamberg, noting Volkswagen could be "sealing its own downfall".
But union officials have seized on DaimlerChrysler's pledge in July to keep 160,000 German jobs until 2012, in a deal that cuts costs by 500 million euros ($619 million) a year, as a model for VW wage talks next month.
VW must secure jobs "for the order of magnitude of 10 years", a top union negotiator said late on Thursday.
Hartmut Meine, who heads IG Metall's negotiating team in VW's home state of Lower Saxony, told reporters a top priority in the talks was safeguarding jobs at a time of waning profits and weak sales at VW.
The union also wants a 4 percent pay rise for 103,000 workers at six plants covered by the in-house contract.
The VW negotiations are being closely watched as a gauge of German workers' willingness to make concessions that would boost the competitiveness of Europe's biggest economy.
Protesters have taken to the streets weekly to denounce the government's proposed cuts in Germany's costly but popular social safety net.
At the same time, some hard-pressed employers have persuaded staff to lengthen the work week to 40 hours from 35.
Most VW workers log between 28.8 and 40 hours a week now, depending on the production cycle, putting longer hours in "labour accounts" they can draw on when slack times arrive.
Volkswagen has declined to comment before a news conference called for Monday to detail its negotiating stance but personnel chief Peter Hartz has made clear he wants yet more flexibility.
VW, saying its staff earns around a fifth more than other German metalworkers, aims to cut labor costs by 30 percent by 2011 to increase its competitiveness in a market marked by sluggish growth, excess capacity and price pressure.
That puts it on collision course with unions determined to protect jobs at a time when unemployment exceeds 10 percent.
Meine said the firm should ensure jobs long into the future.
"The children and grandchildren of people who now work at Volkswagen should also be able to get a job at VW," he said.
Labor's focus on preserving German jobs that are threatened by eastern Europe's emergence as a low-cost carmaking center may mean the union will give ground on the pay rise figure in return for job security, industrial relations experts say.
But VW's goal of cutting labor costs 30 percent in the medium term remains a stumbling block.
"We are not going along with this," Meine said.
Some analysts suggested one way forward would be to link job assurances to product life cycles, which these days are shrinking as carmakers throw fresh products onto the market to attract customers' interest.
Daimler did this in its labor pact, which is based on production of the C-class cars from 2007 to 2012.
"Similar models are certainly possible at VW," said Marc-Rene Tonn, autos analyst at M.M. Warburg.