German union criticizes Stellantis over use of furlough program at Opel plant

BERLIN — Workers at Opel’s Eisenach plant, which was shut down last week until the end of the year due to chip shortages, on Thursday accused the brand’s owner, Stellantis, of exploiting Germany’s furlough program to move production out of the country.

Union officials fear that Opel, which is bound by an agreement struck last year not to make lay off any workers in Germany until 2025, is placing Eisenach workers on furlough as a temporary fix that could evolve into a longer-term shutdown.

The Grandland X model being produced in Eisenach will be made at the company’s Sochaux plant in France until the shutdown lifts, but workers fear it will be moved there permanently.

“We will not let this be done to us,” local workers’ council head Uwe Loesche wrote in a statement published on union IG Metall’s website on Thursday.

Two unions in France last week issued a similar critique of Stellantis’ use of the furlough program, alleging that the company was using the chip shortage as an excuse to furlough a disproportionate number of people to pocket taxpayer funds.

“The global automotive industry is in an exceptional situation due to the ongoing pandemic and a global shortage of semiconductors. Production in Eisenach is scheduled to start again at the beginning of 2022, provided the supply chain situation allows,” Stellantis said in an emailed statement to Reuters when asked about the union’s concerns.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, alongside other heads of automakers and industry experts, predict the chip crisis will carry on well into 2022.

The company has stalled production at plants across France, the United States and Italy in recent months due to the chip crunch, forecasting it would make 1.4 million fewer vehicles this year.

Analysts have said that Stellantis, formed earlier this year through a merger of PSA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has a severe overcapacity problem that could lead to plant shutdowns, though CEO Tavares has promised that his endeavours to turn around Opel’s profits would not involve factory closures.


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