Sustainable working hours flexibilisation
In 2010, Audi Brussels and Déhora launched an innovative and flexible hour system in response to fluctuations in the production process. The life-cycle of a vehicle has its ups and downs. Since the introduction of a ‘plus-minus conto’ (i.e. flexibility in calculating average weekly hours where the production and development cycle spans several years), not one production day has been lost. Moreover, that same plus-minus conto became an important element of the new legislative bill of Minister Peeters.
The Belgian branch was seeking a solution to the employment guarantee at the relaunch of the company in 2007. At the same time, it needed to respond to the demand for a 20% cost reduction. Déhora was called in to assist.
Crucial for a project like this is to begin with the essentials: how is the production process structured and when do the peaks and troughs occur? The easier this is to predict, the more effectively you can respond with one or more forms of labour flexibility. A plus-minus system turned out to be the solution to the situation. While a similar system had already been introduced at a German group of companies, the system needed to be customised to the Belgian market.
Better grip on labour fluctuations
Audi opted to link the duration of the plus-minus conto to the cycle of the new model whose production was slated to begin in 2010. A qualifying period in an annual hours system is normally one year. However, the average working time at Audi Brussels is calculated over a period of six years.
During the qualifying period, employees work one day more or less per week, depending on production needs. For example, employees will work just four days during quieter weeks. On the other hand, these employees will put in six days a week (i.e. also Saturdays) during busy weeks. At the end of the day, the average weekly working hours should correspond with the agreed working hours.
Erik Prieels, Head of Human Resources at Audi Brussels:
‘The challenge was to find a concept that would literally and figuratively let us push down the throttle in certain periods. So we introduced an annual hours system. The additional days or hours that we are required to work can be used to finance slower periods later.’
Flexible and Feasible Work 2017
The legislator was also involved in this development. The law was amended in 2006 specifically for the automobile industry with the idea of evaluating the project at a later date. The 2017 legislative bill ‘Flexible and Feasible Work’ enabled the rollout of this scheduling method two other sectors. Audi Brussel and Déhora are co-devisers of an important component of this design.
‘I am thrilled that the new design features a rollout of plus-minus conto to other sectors! It’s inspiring to see that Audi is setting an example for people and companies to seek out flexibility-based solutions. And in that sense, perhaps we have also discreetly influenced the political arena. That’s a great bonus.’
This concept is ideal for application in other sectors. However, it isn’t a case of simply copying the system. The automobile sector is not the food sector, nor is it the logistics sector. Each sector requires a different approach to implement this concept. This also applies to each sector’s unique problems, which will then need to be tackled.
Lessons learned: plus-minus conto 2.0
We are now at the end of the first cycle. Together with Déhora, Audi is working on version 2.0 of the plus-minus conto. The concept of the plus-minus conto was designed especially to create greater collective flexibility. When demand for production falls, there will need to be a collective scaling back, and vice versa. But that collective flexibility meant there was not always sufficient attention for what the employees themselves wanted.
‘Already in the course of this first phase, we began thinking about ‘plus minus conto 2.0’. Flexibility for a company is essential, but your employees also need flexibility. With the new conto, we are seeking the perfect synergy between that collective and individual flexibility.’
Audi Brussels and Déhora are setting the bar even higher. They are examining ways to expand the conto to encompass a person’s entire career. With a life conto, your entire working life would be better geared toward your private life. And it would serve your various life phases as an employee.
Luk Berlanger, Director of Déhora Belgium:
‘Working more while you’re young, and working less when you’ve just had a child? That should be possible. Just as long as a healthy balance is struck between the interests of the employer and the employee.’