The French owned auto factory announces plans to downsize its Vienna workforce; unions turn to the city for help.

Groupe PSA’s Opel division plans to layoff 400 of its 1,200 employees at the Austrian gearbox plant in Vienna-Aspern by the end of the year. According to company spokesman Christoph Stummvoll, this downsizing reflects the loss of a large gearbox contract and continual pressure to increase efficiency.

“We knew we had too many employees on board,” says worker’s council chairman, Renate Blauensteiner after the cuts were announced (Mar 28). “But these drastic measures were unexpected.”

Back in its glory days in the 1990’s, as a division of General Motors, the Opel plant employed 3,000 people and every second GM vehicle in Europe was equipped with a gearbox from Aspern.  But more recently the factory has been struggling for orders. In 2018 about 100 employees were laid off and Opel received a €1 million subsidy from the City of Vienna to help maintain the plant. The trades union PRO-GE/GPA-djp has criticized the city for not linking the subsidy to a stipulation to maintain jobs, but Blauensteiner disagrees. “The money we received was to encourage innovation of new products to help the facility” she told the ORF.

In response, the City of Vienna announced a foundation in cooperation with the Vienna Workers Promotion Fund (WAFF) to assist those affected by the layoffs. “We are here for them,” says spokesman of City Councilor of Economics Peter Hanke (SPÖ).

The city appears to have kept its promise to at least half of Opel’s downsizing victims, according to press reports. Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) confirmed (Apr 5) that some 200 people will be hired by the Wiener Linien. Other transport companies reportedly have 100 vacant work slots and will train suitable applicants. Opel’s workers council continues to negotiate a social plan and WAFF has established a foundation offering education and training for up to four years.

Opel’s Vienna plant will remain open and is expected to produce the new 6-speed gearbox as of late 2019.