US tyre chief: French too workshy for takeover

AN AMERICAN business leader has dismissed a French government plea to take over an ailing tyre factory by claiming he would have to be stupid to rescue a plant where staff only work three hours a day.

In a crushing condemnation of the French work ethic, Maurice Taylor, chief executive of US tyre-maker Titan International, told France’s industry minister he had no interest in saving the factory. His comments, contained in a letter to the minister which was published yesterday in French newspapers.

Mr Taylor, nicknamed The Grizz for his tough negotiating style (rather like a grizzly bear) wrote: “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.

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“I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way! 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.”

The letter, dated 8 February, was addressed to Arnaud Montebourg, industry minister under socialist president François Hollande, and written in English. Business daily Les Echos published it online and the ministry confirmed it was genuine.

Mr Montebourg’s office said the letter was an authentic response to Paris consulting Titan as a possible buyer of US group Goodyear’s factory in Amiens, in the north of the country.

Despite having per head productivity levels that rank among the best in Europe, some economists blame France’s rigid hiring and firing laws for a long industrial decline that has dented exports. Many also fault France’s 35-hour work week.

Goodyear’s Amiens plant employs 1,250 workers, who have been resisting demands that they work more shifts or accept lay-offs. The government said in January that the site faced imminent closure.

Talks with Titan over a possible purchase of the plant’s farm tyre section fell through last September after a failure to reach a deal with the CGT union on voluntary redundancies.

In his letter to Mr Montebourg, Mr Taylor accused the French government of “doing nothing” in the face of Chinese competition.

“Sir, your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are?” he wrote. “Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires [sic]. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government.”

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Mr Hollande might take some comfort in Mr Taylor’s view of American president Barack Obama’s business policies:

“The US government is not much better than the French,” he said, referring to the dispute over Chinese exports.

Four years ago, former French finance minister Christine Lagarde – now head of the International Monetary Fund – also branded leisure-loving French workers as “lethargic”.

She told French newspapers: “Instead of thinking about their work, people think about their weekends, organising, planning and engineering time off.

A recent global study of working hours also revealed the French worked the fewest hours of any country on the planet.

The report by Swiss bank UBS found the French work for just 1,480 hours a year, with 27 days holiday – meaning they have more free time than any other nation on the planet. The average Briton works 1,782 hours a year – 301 more than the French – with 20 days holiday a year.

Mr Montebourg said he intended to write a reply, after a meeting yesterday with Mr Hollande. A spokesman for the CGT was less reserved, saying Mr Taylor belonged in “an asylum rather than a boardroom”.