Social dialogue: a culture shock between PSA and Opel
The conflict between the PSA top direction and the Opel workers and German unions is lasting longer and longer. It signals the big gap between two negotiating cultures on the left or right of the river Rhine.
The plan of Carlos Tavares, the Portuguese CEO at the helm of PSA, is clear: Opel, that hasn’t earned one single euro since 1999, has to reach an operational margin of 2% by 2020. To reach this goal, PSA has concluded deals with all Opel/Vauxhall sites all over Europe… except in Germany.
In Germany PSA had to accept reluctantly the new wages deal concluded in February last year stipulating a 4,3% rise in wages for all industrial workers. As a reaction, PSA tries to find as much voluntary departures as possible and stays vague about its plans with the three important German Opel sites, Rüsselsheim, Eisenach and Kaiserslautern, totalling 19.000 employees.
This is not really appreciated by the Opel Betriebsrat (council of employees) and the very influential IG Metall union. They both argue that if a company in difficulty wants to withdraw itself temporarily from certain conventions, it has to give full transparency about its finances and about how it wants to solve the problem, as stipulated in the so-called Pforzheim agreement of 2004 between the German employers and IG Metall.
“Until now, we haven’t received clear information about which model will be produced where and when”, says IG Metall. “The so-called Pace-plan to save Opel is too vague and not specific enough. If we conclude an agreement of temporary wage cuts, we have to be sure about future engagements.”
No ‘ideological enemies’
Carlos Tavares sees the danger and in the beginning of this month he tried to calm the spirits by inviting the German press in Paris. He claimed that he was “ready to put every paper on the table”. But he also added: “I can present tons of paper here, but we must see the difference between transparency and management decisions.”
By doing so Tavares shows he doesn’t understand the meaning of Mittbestimmung (co-decision making) in Germany. “Even PSA has to understand that plans for the German Opel sites can’t be decided unilaterally but have to be the result of negotiations and a fair compromise”, declared Wolfgang Schäfer-Klug, president of the Opel Betriebsrat.
In France they don’t understand this kind of negotiation and fear that the Betriebsrat wants to make ‘a political conflict’ of it. This irritates IG Metall that stresses that “German unions are not enemies but negotiation partners ready to play a positive role”.
Is there a need for an intercultural reconciler to save Opel? The managers at PSA should study the compromise concluded on the 6th of May between Siemens and IG Metall, stipulating that 3.500 workers will have to leave its ailing turbine division. The Germans will have to look more closely into the sacrifices PSA workers in France made to save the company in 2012.
Opel boss Michael Lohscheller declared recently in the German Handelsblatt newspaper “to be still positive about resolving the conflict, at the same time being aware of the sense of urgency of the situation.”
For Opel, time is almost up. A recent study of the car research institute (CAR) at the university of Duisburg-Essen indicates that the market share of Opel in Germany has dropped again this first quarter of 2018, to a 6,5% low. This is the lowest level since… 1950.