Agreement at Bosch on employment stability

On 22 December 2009, an important agreement was signed at the Bosch manufacturing plant in the town of Modugno in the Italian southeastern province of Bari, one of the German company’s largest European production sites. The agreement aims to maintain employment levels, despite the current economic crisis, and to install a system which will produce energy through photovoltaic panels. The use of such ‘green’ technology is still rather uncommon in Italy.

The Bosch Group, a German company, is one of the largest producers of car parts in the world. It also manufactures industrial tools, household appliances, radio sets and heating apparatus. Its plant in the town of Modugno in the southeastern province of Bari represents one of Bosch’s largest production sites in Europe and it is the most important Bosch factory in Italy. About 2,200 people work in the plant, which produces braking systems, including the ‘common rail’ pump for diesel engines for the entire European automotive market.

Impact of economic crisis

The decline in car sales worldwide and the tendency of the market to turn towards more ecological gas-powered vehicles have had a negative effect on component production and, therefore, on manufacturing levels in the plant.

On 22 December 2009, Bosch management representatives – assisted by the Bari branch of the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria) – signed an agreement with the trade unions to guarantee employment levels and plan for the installation of a photovoltaic system within the factory for the production of ‘green’ energy. The signatory trade unions included the Federation of White-collar and Blue-collar Metalworkers (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metalmeccanici, Fiom), the Italian Metalworkers’ Federation (Federazione Italiana Metalmeccanici, Fim) and the Italian Metalworkers’ Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Metalmeccanici, Uilm).

Content of agreement

In its introduction, the agreement analyses the possible market evolution over the next two years, forecasting for 2010 a 25% decline in the plant’s production levels. It also confirms the 150 structural redundancies that had been arranged in a previous agreement.

The latest accord commits the company in two main areas. Firstly, it guarantees the maintenance of employment levels up until the end of 2011. Bosch will not adopt unilateral instruments for reducing personnel levels, and will only use – if necessary – measures of a temporary nature. Furthermore, the company will not transfer brake production to other plants and will maintain current production levels. It also plans that the plant will start production of a new ecological pump, known as CP1H, in the second half of 2011.

Secondly, the agreement aims to realise a project whereby the Modugno plant will become a pilot site of the Bosch Group in Italy for the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This objective will be reached with the production of electric energy using photovoltaic panels. These will be installed by the end of 2010 on a 12,000 square metre area on the roof of the plant and will produce between 500 and 1000 kilowatts of energy.

According to the trade unions that signed the agreement, the decision to set up photovoltaic panels could indicate the beginning of preparations to convert the plant’s braking system division to the production of panels. Due to financial difficulties, this division has been for sale for five years.

In addition, the agreement aims to resolve the problem of fluctuations in productivity, by availing of temporary social shock absorbers (ammortizzatori sociali) (IT9802319F, IT0205204F) and undertaking company restructuring.

Trade union reaction

The trade unions have underlined the importance that the agreement places on the protection of employment levels in a period of serious economic crisis. Secretary General of the Bari branch of Fim, Gianfranco Micchetti, states that ‘it is the first time in Italy that such a large industry group guarantees employment levels regardless of market forces’.

Commentary

In essence, the agreement has two innovative elements. The first is the guarantee that employment levels will be maintained, which – in a situation of economic crisis with little sign of recovery in the near future – clearly indicates the commitment of Bosch to protect the professional competence that has been developed in the company.

The second important aspect of the agreement concerns the environment. This represents a choice which could be considered somewhat unusual. In fact, it is curious that most companies in Italy – which has more sunlight than almost any other country in Europe – do not invest in the green economy (see Italian contribution to the EIRO comparative study on Greening the European economy). The green market is currently expanding and the demand for renewable energy production sites will inevitably increase in the near future. Many Italian enterprises, however, are not adopting these new technologies and tend not to convert their factories to green energy. In this type of situation, the role of the social actors, particularly the trade unions, becomes fundamental in order to encourage companies to invest in long-term projects that will protect both the environment and employment levels.

Vilma Rinolfi, Cesos

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