Fiat S.p.A. CEO Sergio Marchionne on Thursday defended the automaker's record for being socially responsible by protecting jobs in its home market and warned that a continuation of the us-vs.-them attitude shown by one of Italy's five metalworkers unions toward Fiat would hurt the country's ability to remain competitive.
“If Italy does not manage to abandon this way of thinking, we will never solve anything,” Marchionne said at a conference in Rimini, northeast Italy.
The comments come as Marchionne tries to keep a fight between Fiat and the Fiom labor union from escalating. The union said on Monday it will file a criminal complaint against Fiat after the company refused to allow three dismissed employees back to work despite a court ruling ordering their reinstatement.
The latest disagreement is complicating efforts by Marchionne to change entrenched work practices and introduce more flexibility at Italian plants.
Fiat dismissed the three workers at its Melfi plant in southern Italy in July, accusing them of blocking machinery during a strike to prevent non-striking workers from doing their job. But a court ruled the three should be reinstated. Fiat is appealing against the ruling and on Monday told the three employees they could only carry out work related to their union functions but could not resume their regular jobs at the plant.
More cars, more workdays
In April, Marchionne announced a plan, called Fabbrica Italia (Italian factory) to double domestic car production to 1.4 million units in 2014 from 650,000 units built last year. To make domestic production profitable, Marchionne asked unions to increase efficiency by about 70 percent, switching to a three-shift, 280-workday year from the current two shifts and 235 workdays.
Fiom has refused to accept several clauses in the new contract.
Getting workers to agree to the contract is a key part of Fiat's plan to move production of the next-generation Panda minicar to Pomigliano, Italy, from Poland.
More than 63 percent of the Pomigliano workers approved the new contract in a referendum held in late June, but Fiom was against the contract and has started a number of strikes since the vote.
Marchionne reiterated Thursday that the decision to move Panda production to Italy shows that Fiat is willing to sacrifice some financial gain to be socially responsible.
“We did it because, whenever is possible – and without affecting our company solidity – we think it is our duty to privilege the country where Fiat has its roots,” Marchionne said.
He confirmed that Fiat has lost money and is currently losing money from building cars in Italy.
Reuters contributed to this report