Airbus on Wednesday finally unveiled its radical restructuring to end what its chief executive called the “poison” of national rivalries which have left Europe’s flagship manufacturer struggling to overcome months of paralysis and mounting crisis.
However, the plans to cut 10,000 jobs – 4,300 in France, 3,700 in Germany, 1,600 in the UK and 400 in Spain – including temporary contract workers, immediately ran into fierce trade union criticism.
Airbus is aiming eventually to reduce the number of its manufacturing sites across Europe from 17 to 10 or 11 as part of a long-term transformation of its engineering and manufacturing operations, aimed at bolstering the group’s competitiveness against its US rival Boeing and countering the heavy impact of the decline in the value of the US dollar.
Louis Gallois, chief executive of Airbus and co-chief executive of EADS, said the group had to become fully integrated to overcome the “poison” of national rivalries, a restructuring that should have been achieved seven years ago, when the old Airbus consortium organisation was replaced in theory by a single corporate entity.
“Our long-term future is at stake, if we don’t act now,” said Mr Gallois.
The restructuring – the most sweeping in the company’s 37-year history that will find 11.5 per cent of its 87,000 workforce in the firing line – has been hampered by political wrangling by European governments. On Wednesday Nicolas Sarkozy, the Gaullist candidate in the French presidential election race, criticised the lack of a committed long-term industrial shareholder at EADS saying the company was a great commercial enterprise that must be allowed to make commercial decisions enabling it to compete in a highly competitive marketplace.
Separately, he told Le Parisien newspaper: “Airbus must function as a normal enterprise, which bases its activities where there are the best competences and the best productivity.”
His comments contrasted sharply with the position adopted by Ségolène Royal, his Socialist rival. She has criticised the company for putting “financial logic” above industrial strategy.
French unions on Wednesday pledged to put pressure on EADS shareholders and the government to back down on the plan to cut 4,200 jobs in France and dispose of two sites. “Our position is clear,” said Jean-Francois Knepper, co-president of the European works council at Airbus. “It is no closures and no disposals.”
Three sites, Varel and Laupheim in Germany and Saint- Nazaire-Ville in France are earmarked for disposal. At three others – Filton, near Bristol in the UK, Nordenham in Germany and Méaulte in France – Airbus is seeking outside partners.
Airbus workers at the German sites downed tools on Wednesday afternoon. “People are so frustrated, they spontaneously left work, they’re fed up,” IG Metall official Heino Bade said.
Franck Haumont, a veteran of 18 years at the site wants Airbus workers in Spain, Germany and the UK to join their French counterparts in strikes.
Airbus’ plan will eventually lead to the consolidation of all assembly of narrow-body jets in Hamburg from around the middle of the next decade, when the current A320 family is due to be replaced.
Final assembly of all long-haul, wide-body aircraft – including the A350, the €10bn development of a new family of long-range, medium-capacity jets to compete with the highly successful Boeing 787 Dreamliner – will be based in Toulouse.
The weakness of the US dollar against the euro had led alone to a 20 per cent reduction in competitiveness in the last six years. “We cannot continue to produce at our current euro costs and sell at Boeing’s dollar prices,” said Mr Gallois.
EADS will take a one-off provision of €680m in the current quarter for the redundancies.
Additional reporting by Gerrit Wiesmann in Frankfurt, Delphine Strauss in St Nazaire Ville and John Thornhill in Paris
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