Seat’s management and company committee will begin this Wednesday the official negotiations of the new collective agreement. The staff does not want to start this negotiation without knowing what will be the surplus of employment that the electrification of the brand will entail, an essential step for its viability in the medium term but also a Damocles sword on part of its 15,000 direct jobs and the 116,000 indirect. In the opinion of the president of the works council, Matías Carnero, this cut is especially threatening to the Martorell plants, where the vehicles are assembled; the Zona Franca, specializing in iron and sheet metal work for different factories of the Volkswagen Group; and that of El Prat de Llobregat, center of the production of gearboxes condemned to disappear with the electric car.
“It is not possible to propose a new agreement without being clear about the strategic vision of the company and the employment that the new stage can offer”, affirms Carnero, convinced ―in addition to the higher organic position of labor representation, he is a member of the supervisory board of Volkswagen Group― of the snip that the new era of the electric car will give to Seat. There is consensus in the sector that the manufacture of a battery-powered vehicle involves 30% less work than a combustion vehicle and it is with this logic that Carnero argues that the 500,000 electric units that the brand wants to produce in Martorell will mean the equivalent to only 350,000 current combustion cars. In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, the Barcelona factory assembled half a million cars.
Sources from the group explain that the electrification of the plants does not necessarily imply a loss of labor. Although they do recognize that it will entail the updating of some of the workers so that they perform other functions. They specify that tasks will now be necessary to assemble batteries, an operation that was not done before, or the incorporation of other technological or digital aspects that cars did not include until now and will have to be developed with electric vehicles. However, we will have to wait for the Volkswagen Group’s decision on whether to definitively install the battery plant in Spain, as it said it was studying whether the conditions were met. The German group hopes that the Government will unlock the PERTE of the automobile and see the conditions and scope of the aid to close its decision, which would cascade another succession of strategic decisions.
In this way, the Martorell factory would be affected, but the impact would spread like an oil stain on other factories. That of the Free Zone would also be affected by a reduction in production that is discounted: that is why it had been proposed to locate there the assembly center for the packages of batteries that go in vehicles.
And that of El Prat runs greater risks, since all its production drinks from the gasoline and diesel car. As an alternative to this loss of production, Seat has applied to manufacture one of the families of the future engine that will be assembled both at the Martorell plant and at the Pamplona plant (of Volkswagen), but the committee considers that bet lost. He fears that Volkswagen Components, the subsidiary of the German group that is in charge of the engines, will award the 800,000 engines that will be needed in Spain to the Hungarian plant in Gyor. This was explained two weeks ago to the second vice president and minister of labor, Yolanda Díaz, whom he asked to mediate so that the consortium assigned products to that work center due to the risk that it would begin to have problems from 2027, when the production of combustion vehicles is ended. Nearly 1,200 people work in El Prat who will know the decision about a new workload or not at the end of this month of February. “I suspect that the decision will go in that direction and we have to look for alternatives in components,” says Carnero. The company, consulted last Friday, assures that no decision has been made.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The negotiation of the agreement comes a year late, after the company asked the unions to leave the negotiation and wait to see how the clouds of the pandemic and supply bottlenecks cleared. Now, the unions plan to negotiate it without letting last year’s increase in inflation go by – the CPI closed last December with a 6.5% rise. But, above all, what should be the working conditions of those who stay and, even, of those who have to leave the company in the coming years.
To do this, however, it is necessary to know what vehicle and component assignments Seat will have. For the time being, and although it is still conditional on resources from European Next Generation funds being put into operation, it will manufacture the most economical Cupra and Skoda electric vehicles from 2025. This production will not be entirely sufficient, in the opinion of the works council, which demands the allocation for 2027 of a new model with a larger platform, which could be that of the second version of the Cupra Formentor, the highest-end vehicle of the Spanish company.