April 24, 2018 / 4:23 PM / 3 months ago

Opel workers protest cuts as Peugeot boss digs in

FRANKFURT/PARIS, April 24 (Reuters) - Hundreds of German Opel workers gathered outside the carmaker’s Eisenach plant on Tuesday to protest against owner PSA Group’s plans to rein in wages in return for new production investments.

The protest underlined the deepening dispute between the French carmaker and staff at loss-making Opel, acquired from General Motors last year. The carmaker is already cutting thousands of jobs through voluntary departures.

More contentious is the company’s demand that its 19,000 German workers give up a 4.3 percent pay rise negotiated nationally by the IG Metall union before it commits to a first production investment at Eisenach, in central Thuringia state.

“If there were reasonable negotiations ... then we’d be prepared to talk about reasonable concessions,” Opel works council chief Wolfgang Schaefer-Klug told reporters. “What we won’t do is to waste our good money on this company only to see a gradual exit from Germany.”

The protest, attended by an estimated 1,000 workers, coincided with PSA’s annual shareholder meeting, where investors approved Chief Executive Carlos Tavares’ 2017 pay - including a 1 million euro ($1.2 million) bonus for the Opel acquisition.

Tavares told shareholders at the meeting near Paris that he was not expecting a swift resolution to the standoff.

“It’s going to take a few more weeks,” the CEO said. “Don’t be surprised if it makes a bit more noise. This is a part of what needs to be done to get the company back on the rails.”

The group also posted a 42 percent increase in first-quarter revenue on Tuesday, reiterating mid-term goals for Opel-Vauxhall as well as its Peugeot, Citroen and DS brands.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week weighed in to demand that Tavares honour commitments to avoid plant closures or forced redundancies that were given before the acquisition.

“I’m very grateful that the Chancellor made clear to the French side that a company in which the French state is involved cannot ignore German labour law,” Thuringia state Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow said at the protest.

The French government, whose bpiFrance sovereign wealth fund owns 12.2 percent of PSA, has so far stayed out of the dispute. ($1 = 0.8180 euros) (Reporting by Laurence Frost Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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