It took two days for car parts factories in Portugal to hit the new coronavirus. Orders disappeared, production practically stopped and saving the 58 thousand jobs in this sector became a priority. The recovery of this industry is expected to take at least eight months because the car factories are only expected to resume production in May, say companies in the sector. The unions, however, warn of "looting the rights" of workers.
“Until the middle of last week, customers were placing orders. Within two days, factories across Europe began to close and we stopped having orders. 90% of production fell and most companies are working residently. We have a situation of complete stoppage of activity ”, portrays José Couto, leader of AFIA, the association that represents component companies, to Dinheiro Vivo.
This industry currently represents 16.3% of Portuguese goods exports. The sending of car parts abroad was worth 9.749 billion euros last year, 86% more than in 2010. For this year, Covid-19 destroyed even the worst scenario.
“Consumption will drop by more than 70% in Europe. After we pass the peak of contagion, the start of this industry will be very slow. It will take between eight months and a year to resume normal production ”, anticipates José Couto. “Companies have to prepare for the post-Covid-19. Many of them will have to reshape the cost context in order to respond to this challenge. ”
The AFIA leader also warns that "there are first line factories that can stop between six and eight weeks" and that, because of this, "many component companies will not have the cash to support these stops".
José Couto points out that component companies want to safeguard jobs "because there have been many training costs in the past few years that cannot be wasted". To protect jobs, “some companies are trying to anticipate this year's vacation and running out of hour banks. Many workers propose to find solutions with companies ”.
The unions defend that "it is necessary to maintain production, ensuring standards of protection, health and hygiene at work". But the reports that have reached Fiequimetal, an inter-union federation associated with CGTP and that includes the automotive industry, do not go in this direction.
“There is a process of employer looting for workers' rights: there are factories that are forcing compulsory vacations and protections are not being distributed to people. We also saw the application of a lay-off [temporary suspension of the employment contract] wild, without fulfilling the requirements ”, denounces Rogério Silva, director of Fiequimetal.
In Autoeuropa's industrial park – the largest car factory in Portugal – “there are some suppliers where temporary workers terminated contracts at the company's decision and who will have to go to unemployment”, says Daniel Bernardino. “At this stage, companies should not fire people”, understands the coordinator of workers' commissions in that industrial park.
On the part of AFIA, State intervention is called for. “2020 is going to be a very complicated year and it is our challenge to overcome it. This does not go only with the imagination of the entrepreneurs. If there is no specific plan from the Government and the Ministry of Economy for the automotive industry, we will succumb. If we are not competitive, customers will look elsewhere for solutions. ”