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Fiat unions look at Germany for new contract model

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Fiat unions look at Germany for new contract model

September 20, 2010 06:01 CET

MELFI, Italy (Reuters) -- Fiat unions want Ihe carmaker to provide job guarantees and give workers a greater say in company policy to win their support of Fiat's efforts to boost productivity in Italy.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has been struggling to introduce more flexible job rules to forge ahead with his 20 billion euro ($26.17 billion) plan to raise Fiat's annual output in Italy to 1.4 million vehicles by 2014 from 650,000 units now.

Union leaders at Fiat's leading Italian plant in Melfi in the southern region of Basilicata are looking at Germany as the model for a deal between a carmaker and workers to fight fierce competition from lower labor cost countries.

"In the German model one can see how it is possible to be competitive even with salaries which are much higher than in Italy," Antonio Falotico, secretary general of CISL union for Basilicata, told a group of foreign reporters.

Germany's Volkswagen AG, BMW AG, Daimler AG and some other European carmakers have granted staff job guarantees for several years -- usually in exchange for a pay freeze, longer hours, more flexible working arrangements or other concessions.

Volkswagen and 90,000 workers in its high-wage western German plants agreed a deal five years ago for workers to forego wage hikes and a four-day work week in return for job guarantees.

"If they (Fiat) give us a Volkswagen model, we will sign it immediately," said Giovanni Barozzino, activist at FIOM, a powerful section of Italy's biggest union CGIL, which opposes Fiat's drive to shake up work practices at its Italian plants.

FIOM is the only union out of five at Fiat's underperforming plant at Pomigliano d'Arco near Naples opposing Marchionne's plan to boost investment and create jobs there in exchange for greater flexibility in working shifts and limits on strikes.

Speaking to reporters by the gates of the Melfi plant temporarily shut down because of a problem with some car part delivery, Barozzino, 45, said FIOM was ready to talk to the management but would not sacrifice workers' constitutional rights, including those to strike.

Barozzino is one of three workers at the Melfi plant which Fiat fired in July accusing them of blocking machinery during a strike to prevent non-striking workers from doing their job.

A court ruled the three should be reinstated, but Fiat appealed against the ruling.

Barozzino denied such accusations.

FIOM and other, more moderate unions' leaders at Melfi -- who would not even speak to reporters together -- were unanimous in their will to have a greater say in Fiat's investment and innovation policy and send their representatives to the group's board.

But they also acknowledged that tough-talking Marchionne, who has threatened to take planned investments outside Italy, is determined to break down Italy's rigid labor rules and there were little alternatives for workers in Basilicata.

"There is a risk of losing jobs and investments ... There is a risk that Fiat's plan to boost productivity ... will be carried out at other plants," Marco Roselli, secretary general of FISMIC union for Basilicata, told reporters.

The Melfi plant started up in 1993 amid tomato fields and Basilicata still has a predominantly rural economy with a 10 percent to 11 percent unemployment rate, above the national average of 9 percent.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100920/ANE/309199996/1317#ixzz106HzL6bd

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