Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Fiat retains 8,000 workers, Saab enters protection


Automaker Fiat canceled some 8,000 layoffs thanks to government help, while Sweden wrestled with how to save 4,500 jobs at Saab after the General Motors’ unit sought protection from creditors.

Friday’s developments — and calls for more help for automakers in the UK and Germany — show the pressure European governments are under to step up bailout packages and save industrial jobs.

Some 8,000 Fiat workers from the Turin headquarters to Sicily will be getting their full paychecks next month after Fiat canceled some scheduled plant closures, kicking up production next month of Fiat’s flagship compact car the Grande Punto, the Fiat Multipla utility vehicle, the Alfa Romeo MiTo and Lancia Ypsilon.

“We are reducing the layoffs,” Fiat spokesman Gualberto Ranieri said on Friday, though some factories will remain on temporary shutdown, including a plant in Naples.

Fiat is Italy’s biggest employer, with some 80,000 workers, more than half of whom have been faced some period of temporary layoff, subsidized by a government-­industry fund, since last fall.

In Sweden, the government was looking for ways to save jobs at Saab after the company went into bankruptcy protection. GM, which says it will seek to get the unit ready to sell, and Sweden have not agreed on additional funding to keep Saab viable on its own after the government rejected a bailout request from GM. Saab employs 4,500 workers in 50 countries.

“We explored and will continue to explore all available options for funding and or selling Saab and it was determined a formal restructuring would be the best way to create a truly independent entity that is ready for investment,” Saab’s managing director, Jan Ake Jonsson, said in a statement.

GM’s unit in Germany, Adam Opel GmbH, is also in trouble, and a union official who sits on the supervisory board said it needs some US$4.2 billion — twice as much as previously discussed — to weather the economic crisis.

Armin Schild, a senior member of the IG Metall union, said the sum would allow Adam Opel GmbH to reduce its reliance on troubled US parent GM.

In the UK, auto industry officials launched calls to increase government help as new figures showed new car production fell 58 percent last month from a year ago.

Several car manufacturers, including BMW, Nissan and Honda, have already shed jobs and reduced workers’ hours in response to slowing consumer demand and there are fears the industry might never recover.

In Canada, a local subsidiary of GM requested about US$4.8 billion in government loans on Friday.

In a restructuring proposal submitted to the federal and provincial Ontario governments, GM Canada outlined how it intends to again become viable and repay government loans. The GM plan did not include a specific dollar figure it seeks in bailout funds, but said the amount would be proportionate to the US$30 billion its parent company requested of Washington earlier this week and Industry Minister Tony Clement confirmed that that figure would amount to about US$4.8 billion.

“Now we have to judge … the plans that they have put forward and we’ll be having those discussions over the next month or so,” Clement told reporters.

He said the government is looking at repayable loans, not a grant as some had been speculating.

“We expect the money to come back on commercial terms. We’re sticking to our guns when we mean it’s a loan,” Clement said.

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