Russian auto workers roll their eyes at Opel rescue

30th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Amid wrangling over the fate of Opel, a General Motors unit, there are growing expectations of a Russian-backed rescue of the German household name, in which Canada's Magna would join forces with Russia's Sberbank and GAZ, maker of the venerable Volga car.

Nizhny Novgorod -- The maker of a boxy, Soviet-style car rides in to rescue Germany's Opel? Don't hold your breath, say the depressed autoworkers of this provincial Russian city.

Amid wrangling over the fate of Opel, a General Motors unit, there are growing expectations of a Russian-backed rescue of the German household name, in which Canada's Magna would join forces with Russia's Sberbank and GAZ, maker of the venerable Volga car.

But among workers in Nizhny Novgorod, where the giant GAZ factory faces collapsing demand for its no-frills Volga, the rescue plan by GAZ and its indebted oligarch owner Oleg Deripaska draws exasperation.

Claims that taking over Opel will bring knock-on gains in technology and business know-how for the Russian company don't impress many of the 40,000 workers clinging to their jobs at the Nizhny Novgorod plant 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Moscow.

"Opel won't bring anything good, just technologies that have already been thrown in the rubbish bin in the West but are judged good for the Russian market," said one outspoken member of GAZ's marketing team, Alexander Chuvilin, interviewed outside the factory gates by AFP.

With jobs being slashed, welder Andrei Tikhonov said he saw little future for the plant, which proudly boasts its Soviet-era heritage and character, with a display of photographs of "heroes of socialist labour" exhibited at the front gates.

"Things go from bad to worse. Will Opel help us? I doubt it. When have people's rights ever been respected in Russia?" a gloomy Tikhonov told AFP.

Car worker Vera Ptashova, 45, said she had seen her monthly salary fall from 9,000 rubles (290 dollars, 210 euros) to 7,000 rubles (225 dollars, 160 euros), as management imposes a shorter working week.

"What's needed is for there to be work. Three people in my workshop have been made redundant. The unions are on the side of management and don't protect us," she complained.

Taking a defiant stance is Svetlana Andropova, 22, who while working at the factory has also been studying law. She now plans to mount a legal challenge after she was given oral notice of redundancy but the management tried to avoid giving her notification on paper.

"They are throwing people onto the streets with impunity. Some workers have been made redundant orally and then fired for absenteeism," said Andropova.

"It's absurd for a factory that is close to collapse to buy another that's in the same situation," she said of the proposed rescue of Opel.

The factory's management were reluctant to talk to AFP on a visit and even local experts working for the city's newspapers declined to discuss the situation at the factory.

The factory's press service did say there were plans to establish training programmes of between six and 18 months as an alternative to laying off workers.

The regional government's industry minister, Nikolai Satayev, acknowledged that nearly 2,000 people had been laid off at the factory in recent months and that other redundancies were expected by August. The region's employment service put the total number of likely redundancies at the factory at 4,000.

However Satayev voiced optimism that a tie-up with Opel would be the answer to GAZ's problems.

"The purchase of Opel could reverse the situation," he said. "Our professionals will be trained ... Opel is a sharp company. This cooperation will be a step forward."

Some workers also echoed this view.

"Our vehicles aren't the best," said one, Gennady Sergiyev. "The arrival of Opel could be a technological turning point."

But the marketing officer, Chuvilin, was less than whole-hearted in endorsing GAZ's products.

"I'm a fan of the Volga. They're suited to Russia's roads and easy to maintain," he said, before he revealed that his own car of choice was German.

AFP/Expatica

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