Union opposed to flexible working time at Fiat plant
In early February, the executive board of Fiat GM Powertrain announced that it wanted to introduce flexible working hours. Management argued that this would help boost production and meet new demand for the company’s products. Yet, the largest of the four trade unions active in the plant, NSZZ Solidarnosc, viewed the proposal unfavourably.
Increased production capacity
The Fiat GM Powertrain plant in Poland is a joint investment between Fiat and General Motors. Established in 2003, the plant manufactures and supplies engines to 15 automobile plants around the world. The strong results recorded by the plant since it began operations led to a decision to invest a further €80 million in the factory; management also plans to employ an additional 300 workers in 2006 and another 150 workers in 2007, thus increasing production capacity considerably.
Management plans to tackle the need for increased production at Fiat GM Powertrain by introducing more flexible working times. Under the proposed scheme, Saturday would become a normal business day. As the factory’s manager explained in a press interview: ‘This will not mean working Saturdays week after week. Sometimes, it will be four days of work per week, at other times, six days per week.’ The manager also emphasised that, regardless of the number of days worked in a week, the number of working hours would not exceed the statutory limit of 40 hours a week.
Trade union opposition
The Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezalezny Samorzadny Zwiazek Zawodowy ‘Solidarnosc’, NSZZ Solidarnosc) is opposed to the plan to introduce flexible working times. NSZZ Solidarnosc is the largest of the four unions active at Fiat GM Powertrain, representing 25% of the total workforce of 1,356 people. The union questions the employer’s calculations regarding shift work, maintaining that it will entail work on Sundays for at least some employees. The union also criticises the proposed working time scheme as being ‘anti-family’, particularly in cases where both partners work at the Fiat GM factory. NSZZ Solidarnosc union representative at the plant, Wanda Strózyk, recalls that, during the European Works Council session held in Turin in November 2005, the General Plenipotentiary of Fiat Auto Turin affirmed that changes of this sort may be introduced only with the full consent of the unions. She also adds: ‘For some time now, the only information we’ve been getting is from the newspapers.’
Some of the shareholders suggested that, if union acceptance for their plans was not forthcoming, they may be forced to shift engine production to Turkey or Brazil. However, a representative of GM Europe underlined that the possibility of closing the Polish plant has not been considered.
So far, the lengthy negotiations with NSZZ Solidarnosc have failed to yield any results. Despite this, both the shareholders and the unions remain optimistic about the chances of eventually reaching an agreement. From the unions’ perspective, such an agreement would have to provide for higher wages and for increased bonuses for night-time work, in addition to re-introducing the bonus for indefinite length of employment for all factory workers.
The three remaining trade unions present at Fiat GM Powertrain are ready to sign the agreement as first proposed. These unions include the Metalworkers’ Union (the second largest union) and NSZZ Solidarnosc Fiat Auto Poland. While their representatives acknowledge that work under the new system may entail some sacrifice on the part of employees, they also recognise the need to think in terms of the long-term future of the plant. For the time being, the threat of offshoring to lower-wage locations has not affected Polish enterprises on any significant scale; however, this situation could soon change.
The remaining employees, who are not affiliated to any union, generally seem happy about the prospect of earning higher wages and are somewhat puzzled by NSZZ Solidarnosc’s stance. Some have also remarked that disputes at Fiat GM Powertrain tend to flare up whenever the date of works council elections draws near.
The directors of Fiat GM Powertrain, for their part, are surprised by objections to flexible working times, maintaining that: ‘A few years ago, all the trade unions signed work rules in which they agreed to the introduction of a different system of work. Accordingly, we find it hard to understand this whole situation.’
Rafal Towalski, Instytut Spraw Publicznych