Organisational and technological change and the consequences for employees at the Italian FCA plants

Type de publication:

Conference Paper

Source:

Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2020)

Résumé:

Purpose
FCA decided to leave the Confindustria association – the main association representing manufacturing and service companies in Italy -on the first of January 2012 and to set up a corporate Trade Union agreement substituting the national one.
The new agreement – called Specific collective agreement (CCSL) FCA-CNH – was signed only by FIM-CISL and UILM-UIL and a corporate Trade Union, but not by FIOM-CGIL the main Trade Union in the engineering sector. The new agreement set FCA free of many binding clauses of the national one. Namely, the working time length (including overtime), and the workers' performance rate.
FCA and the Trade Unions supporting CCSL claimed that the new agreement didn't produce any worsening of the employees' working conditions.
So, FIOM and CGIL requested the "Di Vittorio" and "Claudio Sabattini" Foundations of researching the changes that have affected the working conditions, following the technological and organisational changes implemented by the company, after 2012.

Design
the collection of information material took place in the last months of 2017 and in the first part of 2018. It involved 16 plants for semi-structured interviews (167 interviews) and discussion and 54 factories for the distribution of the questionnaire (9,668 questionnaires collected, about 20% of the worker component of the 54 factories investigated; 7,833 questionnaires deemed valid for analysis). This communication anticipates some of the ongoing reflections.

Main Findings
From the interviews carried out, it emerges that the working conditions have deteriorated overall and are characterised by:
1) a strong compression of the times destined for the carrying out of the operations,
2) intensification of the work pace and the workloads,
3) a marked worsening of the saturations, a lack of resolution - if not worsening - of certain ergonomic conditions.
It stems from the Ergo-UAS system. By making the stations seem "not uncomfortable" or improving their characteristics to make them fall within low Eaws values, the system reduces the increase factor drastically, increasing saturation.
Furthermore, the research showed that:
a) the risk index of many workstations, and consequently, the application of the corresponding increase factors, is often disputed by workers;
b) very high saturations ensue, significantly worsening compared to the previous situation;
c) the intensification of the work pace, the increase in workloads and saturation thwarts the apparent improvement of the ergonomic aspects.
Besides, one of the main pillars of WCM is the identification and elimination of those activities that the system classifies as "activities with no added value" (NVAA). Indeed, many activities (for instance, walking, waiting, rotating, attempting to screw, hand changing, lay tool, putting in place, search, count, replacing e, sorting, measuring, choosing, fixing, untie, lift, pushing, pulling, etc.)are considered "downtime" by the company and therefore to be eliminated. Despite of these same activities represent for workers forms of micro-breaks - both physical and nervous - allowing them to "take breathe", Muda (waste, anything that does not create value in the process) and Mura (irregularity) have to be eliminated to maximise the productivity of the process and reduce waste (costs) (for example, the waste of waiting times must be eliminated to synchronise the production process and flow in its various phases; movements with no added value must be eliminated through a new supply logistics and workplace organisation)
Fundamental to these objectives are the interventions aimed at ensuring that the supply of workstations and the balancing of workloads, especially in the case of a product mix, take place just-in-time. A different organisation of logistics derives from these aspects, aimed at avoiding that the on-line operator "wastes time" in recovering the necessary pieces: in this way, if on the one hand, the supply at the station reduced the movements, on the other, it compressed the times and increased work pace and saturations.
Furthermore, in the widespread rhetoric, organisational changes would have resulted in an increase in worker involvement and an investment in ergonomics in terms of accident prevention. However, the research has made it possible to bring out that the intensification of work pace severely limits the possibilities of involving workers in the various direct participation mechanisms established by the WCM.

With regards to the workers' involvement, the interviewees describe a social factory environment where teams and middle managers did not generate a process of de-hierarchization (as company rhetoric claims instead). Still, the actual outcome is the reconfiguration of the hierarchies of the past.
Indeed, the interviewees perceive team leaders as part of the corporate hierarchy. They are the only ones to have decision-making power on issues such as assigning tasks to team members, breaks, permits for temporary absences, and stopping the assembly line in case of problems.
From this point of view, the team leader is not an actor capable of promoting cooperation processes within the team (when asked if "team leader favours cooperation", almost 60% of respondents say little or not at all ).
As to accident prevention, the WCM foresees the implementation of the "Safety" pillar. It consists of the evaluation, in a competitive logic, of the different work areas and plants based on the number of accidents recorded in a given period. The avowed aim of this pillar is zero accidents. Behind the official scenario in which accident prevention and workplace safety are issues firmly integrated into the organisational process, research has revealed various critical problems.

Practical implication

Organisational and technological innovation must be implemented in a frame of fair bargaining with Trade Unions. It implies that the design of these innovations should be agreed upon with Trade Unions and workers' representatives.

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