Fiat-Chrysler signs deal to begin producing cars as soon as coronavirus lockdown ends

Fiat Chrysler
Fiat Chrysler

Fiat-Chrysler, the Italian-American carmaker that halted all domestic production last month amid the country’s national coronavirus quarantine, has reached an agreement with trade unions representing most of the company’s 55,000 workers to get back to work once the quarantine is lifted.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the nationwide lockdown that started March 10 to “at least” May 3, meaning work at Fiat-Chrysler’s six Italian production plants will remain on standby at least until then.

But Conte said he wanted to restart industrial production as soon as possible, and when the terms of the lockdown are loosened enough to allow factories to begin operating, Fiat-Chrysler will be ready.

“This agreement between the management and the trade unions at Fiat-Chrysler puts the company on the vanguard in Europe,” Paolo Bricco, an automobile sector analyst who has authored multiple books about Fiat-Chrysler, told Xinhua. “The agreement establishes certain post-coronavirus safety protocols that other companies will have to negotiate sooner or later.”

Among the agreed-to terms: plans that would keep workers at a safe distance from each other on the factory floor and even in common areas such as cafeterias. Additionally, protective gear like masks and gloves will be obligatory and there will be protocols in place to monitor the health of workers, including checking body temperatures before entering the factory. The company will also sponsor special training programs.

Six trade unions representing almost all of the company’s workers agreed to the terms, according to statements from both the companies and the unions.

“The idea is to make it as safe as possible for workers to return to the jobs while reducing the possibility of a second wave” of the outbreak, Bricco said.

Bricco said it was also significant that the agreements struck are permanent, meaning they will have a long-term impact on the way the company operates, at least in Italy.

The developments come amid a report from an Italian group that monitors worldwide car sales that showed car sales in Italy had fallen by 85 percent so far this year compared to the same period last year, due almost entirely to the national lockdown, which went into force in Italy before it did in other European countries. Italy was the hardest hit car market in Europe, the report said.

According to Roberto Alfonsi, an automobile sector analyst with ABS Securities, the agreement struck with Fiat’s unions sets the table for the company to ramp up production quickly, perhaps before the company’s main European rivals.

“At least according to theory, the outbreak came to Italy first and so it should end in Italy first,” Alfonsi said in an interview. “If that is what happens, Fiat will be able to start first, and will be ready to go from day one thanks to this agreement.”

Fiat-Chrysler’s stock price fell 40 percent between March 9, when the national lockdown was announced, and March 20. But since then it has climbed to regain around half of the value it lost.

Fiat-Chrysler is in the process of merging with French rival Peugeot. That deal was expected to be completed as soon as mid-year, but news reports have said it will likely be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Enditem

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