Controversial deal to save jobs at Bosch plant

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In July 2004, workers at the Bosch car components plant at Vénissieux in France ratified an agreement reached between management and the local branches of the CFDT and CFE-CGC trade unions. The deal aims to safeguard investment and jobs at the plant, in return for concessions on pay and working time. It has proved controversial, especially in trade union circles, and highlighted debates about France's 35-hour week legislation.

The German-based car components manufacturer Bosch has several production sites in France. The one at Vénissieux (on the outskirts of Lyon), which employs around 800 people, specialises in traditional diesel-injection apparatus. These components are now being replaced in the new generation of cars by high pressure and higher performance fuel-injection systems.

During spring 2004, the company’s management held talks with trade unions on the Vénissieux site’s future. It expressed concern about the plant’s future, stating that it had plans for the continuation of a manufacturing unit making components and other products in the future, but only if 'the Vénissieux site offers competitiveness comparable to that of the group’s other European sites' (according to a Bosch France press release of 19 July 2004).

Following these discussions, an agreement was reached in May 2004 between the management and the local branches of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), and the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff-General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC). This agreement contains provisions on working time and paid leave, remuneration, training and investment commitments. Management as committed itself to investing around EUR 12 million from the end of 2004 in the production of a new-generation common rail fuel-injection pump, which would save 190 of 300 jobs threatened at Vénissieux from 2008. The other main provisions are that:

  • pay rises will be kept low for a three-year period, night shifts will be paid at 20% above the normal wage rate rather than the current 25%, and quarterly bonuses will no longer be included in the calculation of the rate of pay used for setting holiday pay;
  • the current average weekly working time of 35 hours over the year will rise to 36 for manual workers by eliminating six of the extra 20 days off awarded in a company working time reduction agreement signed on 25 July 1997. Two days off (Whit Monday and the extra day for Ascension) are also to be abolished, along with collectively-agreed provisions allowing for early departure from work on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the day before the main annual holiday;
  • training outside working hours will be extended; and
  • talks will soon be held on overhauling the method for calculating the productivity bonus, and establishing a work-team bonus and a system of variable bonuses.

The workers at the Vénissieux plant were consulted over the agreement, and they endorsed it on 19 July 2004.

Although, the local branches of CFE-CGC and CFDT signed up, the national CFE-CGC confederation disowned its on-site union delegate, while the metalworking federation of CFDT stated that it would not allow 'this atypical agreement to become a blueprint for employers'. The French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) and the General Confederation of Labour-Force Ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force Ouvrière, CGT-FO) have rejected the agreement, in which they perceive blackmail by the employer over the possibility of relocating the plant, and more broadly, a challenge to the current legislation on working time.

The Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) employers' confederation, through its chair, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, supported the principle underlying the agreement.

The agreement sparked off a public debate on legislation on working time, the cost of restructuring in terms of job losses and the threat of industrial relocation. The media have particularly emphasised the agreement’s provisions on working time, at a time when the government is thinking openly of adjusting - or in the view of some, challenging - the 35-hour week legislation brought in by the Socialist-led 1997-2002 Jospin administration (FR0001137F), as testified to by President Jacques Chirac’s televised speech on Bastille Day (14 July) 2004.

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