US boss lashes French for 'three-hour' working day
THE BOSS of US tyremaker Titan has sparked outrage in France after mocking its workers for putting in only "three hours" a day and said his company would be "stupid" to take over an ailing French factory.
Maurice Taylor, chief executive of Titan, berated the French work ethic in response to a request for the US company to consider investing in a loss-making Goodyear plant in Amiens, northern France, in an attack which has infuriated unions.
"I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but only works three hours," Mr Taylor wrote in a letter to Arnaud Montebourg, French Industrial Renewal Minister, dated February 8 and obtained by French business daily Les Echos.
"They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!"
Goodyear said last month it planned on closing the plant, which employs 1,173 workers, following five years of failed talks with unions.
Mr Taylor said Titan had a long history of buying and turning around troubled factories but in this instance was not in any way interested.
"Sir, your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tyres. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government," Mr Taylor wrote.
The Titan boss, who made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in the 1996 presidential election, said France's industrial base was under threat from low productivity and cheap imports, including tyres from China that he said were made in subsidised factories.
"Titan is going to buy a Chinese tyre company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour wage and ship all the tyres France needs. You can keep the so-called workers. Titan has no interest in the Amiens North factory," he wrote.
Mr Taylor's incendiary comments have drawn fury from French unions. Mickael Wamen, a representative for the major CGT union at the Goodyear factory, said they showed the Titan boss "belongs more in an insane asylum than at the head of a multinational corporation", and threatened to file legal action in the US against Goodyear and Titan over the closure of the plant.
However, the insults have received some assent in the Gallic nation.
Bernard Accoyer, an opposition politician, said that while Mr Taylor's assessment amounted to a "mocking caricature", it was "not completely unfounded", adding that the country's "serious competitiveness problem" was linked with the "extremist hardliner" views of some unions.
France's Socialist government, led by President Francois Hollande, is struggling to boost the productivity of its industries in the face of increasing global competition. French firms have announced thousands of job cuts in recent months as the economy stagnates.
The country's labour minister Michel Sapin stoked panic last month after describing France as "totally bankrupt" while being interviewed on radio, a gaffe hastily dismissed as "inappropriate" by finance minister Pierre Moscovici, who said: “France is a really solvent country. France is a really credible country, France is a country that is starting to recover.”
Mr Montebourg told reporters he would reply to Mr Taylor in writing, but declined to comment verbally.