French workers hold plant executives hostage

French workers hold plant executives hostage

Published:

Author: Nick Pritchett

On 6 January 2014, workers at a Goodyear factory in Amiens, France, "boss-napped" two directors over plans to close the site. We consider the factors which led to this and the practical steps employers can take to manage redundancy situations.

The Goodyear situation

The Goodyear factory has been running at a loss for several years and the union has previously rejected offers of voluntary redundancies. Further talks took place between management and the union to try and agree terms for the proposed closure of the site, but these failed resulting in the "boss-napping". In particular, the union is pushing for a more generous redundancy plan and vowed to keep the directors hostage until guarantees are given over redundancy packages. According to the union, the directors were held in a meeting room for more than 24 hours. Goodyear have refused to negotiate.

Boss-napping in the UK

"Boss-napping" became commonplace in France in 2009 after the financial crisis as a form of protest against redundancies. Although boss-napping has yet to be seen in the UK, serious stand-offs have occurred such as at Grangemouth in October 2013. In that case, Ineos closed its refinery and petrochemical plant, threatening that redundancies would follow unless workers agreed to pay freezes and changes to their pensions and conditions. Although the workers capitulated rather than face redundancy, there was considerable negative publicity for Ineos.

Redundancy situations are always likely to be emotionally charged, but employers wanting to avoid escalations such as those outlined above are advised to follow certain steps.

How should employers handle potential redundancy situations?

Even with a genuine redundancy situation, employers need to follow a fair procedure. This means that employers need to pool employees appropriately, for example by skill types, and then score them fairly against criteria that is as objective as possible.

It is also important that employers consult with affected individuals throughout the process. This typically involves individual meetings and, crucially, an opportunity for staff to put forward their views about ways that redundancies could be avoided.

Where the employer is making 20 or more employees redundant within any 90-day period across its organisation, there is the additional requirement that it must follow a collective consultation. This means that the employer must consult with all the affected employees collectively via appropriate representatives for a period of at least 30 or 45 days depending on the number of proposed redundancies.

Workers and employers need to work together to plan ahead during financial difficulties. Sacrifices may be needed to secure jobs, retain skills and minimise compulsory redundancies.

Potential ways to avoid unnecessary friction arising such as in Amiens or Grangemouth include:

  • Warn all employees that there is a risk redundancies may arise and explain to them why this has arisen
  • Invite employees to suggest alternatives to redundancy. Explain to them what will be needed to move the business forward. Consider any viable suggestions
  • Consider restricting recruitment or reducing the use of agency workers and contractors
  • Reduce or remove overtime opportunities
  • Invite employees to consider early retirement
  • Keep all affected employees informed throughout the process