FRANKFURT-With demand in Europe outstripping capacity, tire makers there are seeking to extend their operations to 20 or 21 shifts per week to better use available production capabilities. Led by market leader Groupe Michelin, the move reflects a fundamental change in industry-labor relations. Instead of opposing Sunday shifts, tire makers now are actively developing rotating shift schedules and recruiting workers for the new jobs. The changes represent a 15-25 percent hike in factory use rates.
Michelin has instituted or is phasing in 20- or 21-shift schedules at six plants in France and two in Germany-creating more than 900 new jobs-with several more being considered. The changes in France coincide with expansion/modernization projects at the affected plants. In Germany, Michelin's shift changes coincide with productivity gains from plant quality improvement programs.
Weekend shift work has been commonplace in the U.K., Turkey and North America for decades, but labor leaders and politicians across Europe have opposed the idea as being intrusive on personal/family life. The upwardly spiraling cost of manufacturing, however, has created an ``either/or'' situation for most workers-either allow more flexibility in factory utilization, or face reduced employment as production is shifted to lower cost sites.
Even with the added shifts, factories in most European countries still will close from two to four weeks a year for holidays and maintenance work, company spokesmen said.
Other tire makers that have gained or are seeking approval for work beyond the traditional five-day, 15-shift scheme include: Bridgestone/Firestone Europe in Italy and Spain; Continental A.G. in France, Czech Republic, Ireland, the U.K., Germany and Belgium; Pirelli Tyre Holding N.V. in Germany and Spain; and Goodyear in the U.K., Germany, Luxembourg and France. Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd.'s manufacturing operations in France, Germany and the U.K. are considering the question individually.
These changes are taking place at a time when European supply and demand is out of equilibrium. Certain truck makers reportedly are being forced to delay deliveries of vehicles because of shortages of specific tire types and sizes, while some car makers are shipping models to dealers without spares.