PARIS (Reuters) — French trade unionists released two executives on Tuesday after holding them for more than 24 hours at the country's Goodyear tire plant to demand higher pay-outs for more than a thousand planned layoffs.
Workers at the idled factory in the northern city of Amiens have been trying to negotiate redundancy terms with management for nearly a year, after Texan tyre tycoon Maurice Taylor withdrew a potential rescue bid on the grounds that French workers were lazy — triggering a political storm.
After a court rejected their most recent appeal against the plant's closure, members of the hard-left CGT union locked up production and human resources directors Michel Dheilly and Bernard Glesser on Monday.
A CGT source said on Tuesday the union had decided to release the two men. A police source said the captives were escorted out of the plant by officers after a regional prefect ordered their rescue. Goodyear did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who has tried to broker a takeover of the Goodyear plant, told parliament minutes earlier that he wanted the two men to be released.
"We strongly condemn this behaviour," Montebourg said during weekly question time. "I am asking from the National Assembly that these two men be set free."
France 2 TV showed the Goodyear executives seated at a table staring straight ahead as workers shouted in their ears. One director had a bed pan thrust in his face. The unionists said the two men were being amply supplied with food and water.
The so-called "boss-napping" was the first serious case since a spate of them in 2009 prompted conservative ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy to give police powers to intervene by force if necessary.
Tough labour tactics have declined under Socialist President Francois Hollande. But the situation in the factory, where the hardline CGT has majority staff backing, creates a dilemma for the left-wing government wary of cracking down too hard on protests by its blue-collar voters.
"We're ready to go all the way," CGT union delegate Franck Jurek had said.
'We'd call this a kidnapping'
The boss-napping may be the final chapter in a dispute which started in 2009 when Goodyear management said the plant in France was not competitive enough to keep running and needed modernisation to produce the sort of tyres now required on the market.
Goodyear workers rejected plans to tighten costs and labour conditions while across the street workers at the Dunlop tyre plant owned by the same Dunlop-Goodyear parent accepted new conditions. That plant is still producing after receiving hefty investments.
The unions at Goodyear are now no longer fighting to keep the plant open, but want severance packages of between 80,000 euros ($118,000 Cdn) and 180,000 euros ($265,000 Cdn) depending on seniority. Management's proposals have not been made public.
The unions also want access to job re-training benefits for 24 months rather than 15, as currently proposed, Jurek said.
"We've decided with the workers to change tactics to extract as much money as possible," he added.
While holding a person against their will for less than 7 days is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 75,000-euro fine, courts rarely enforce the penalties. Goodyear said in a statement it had filed a complaint on a lesser charge of impeding personal mobility.
Maurice Taylor, chief executive of U.S.-based tyre company Titan International, said the boss-napping had killed any chance of a takeover for the plant.
"In the United States, we'd call this a kidnapping," he told Europe 1 radio. "These people would be arrested and charged ... In France your government does nothing, it seems crazy."
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