The blow is hard. The Japanese manufacturer Bridgestone has decided to permanently close its Béthune (Pas-de-Calais) plant which employs 863 people in the manufacture of tires for cars, AFP learned on Wednesday from management.
Citing production overcapacity in Europe and competition from low-cost Asian brands, the group claims to want to limit the number of layoffs as much as possible through pre-retirement measures, internal or external reclassification of employees, and the search for a buyer for the site.
“It is not a decision that we took lightly,” Laurent Dartoux, president and CEO of Bridgestone Europe Africa and Middle East told AFP. “Structural market problems lead us to take structural measures to preserve the viability of the company’s operations,” he explained.
Anger of the government and Xavier Bertrand
In the wake of this announcement, the government and the president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand denounced on Wednesday the “brutality” the closure of the plant and asked for the study of “alternative scenarios”, in a joint statement .
The Minister of Labor Elisabeth Borne, her colleague delegate to the Economy Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Xavier Bertrand together affirm “their total disagreement with this announcement”. “They dispute the brutality, the relevance and the foundations” and “ask the company to open and analyze in detail all the alternative scenarios to the closure of the site”, we can read in this press release.
“Fully aware of the social consequences”
This plan comes nearly a year after the decision of French competitor Michelin to close its tire plant in La Roche-sur-Yon (Vendée) which employed 619 employees and its site in Bamberg (858 employees), in the south of the ‘Germany. The Continental group also announced Tuesday the closure of its tire factory in Aachen (western Germany) where 1,800 people are employed.
In a press release, Bridgestone said it had informed employees on Wednesday morning that it was considering “the total and final cessation of the activity of the Bethune plant”, during an extraordinary meeting of the social and economic committee. The closure could take place from the “second quarter of 2021”.
Bridgestone says it is “fully aware of the social consequences of such a project and undertakes to implement all the necessary means to define a support plan adapted to each employee”. Reclassifications could in particular be considered in the group’s sales and distribution activities, which employ 3,500 people in France.
The Covid-19 crisis has not helped
The Japanese manufacturer, which claims the world’s leading position in the tire market, promises “a sustained dialogue with employee representatives” and “an ambitious revitalization plan for employment” in the region.
The Béthune plant, which produces automotive tires under the Bridgestone and Firestone brands, has been experiencing difficulties for a long time. It is “the least efficient” among the ten factories of the group in Europe, says management. In a decade, its workforce has fallen by 40%, at the same rate as its production volumes (from 8.5 million units to 5.1 million) in a stable market.
The health crisis has not helped. The European automotive market fell by nearly 40% in the first half of the year and is expected to remain down 25% over the year 2020, hit by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.