Production at Škoda Auto’s three Czech plants restarted at 6 am on April 27, some 39 days after it shut down on March 18 due to the coronavirus crisis.
Škoda in a press release said that the reopening was planned in consultation with the KOVO trade union. “The production of vehicles and components was resumed in Mladá Boleslav, Kvasiny and Vrchlabí. A wide range of hygiene and safety precautions have been put in place to protect the staff’s health,” Škoda stated.
Škoda Auto had shut down production at its Czech sites on March 18 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The shutdown had originally been announced to last two weeks, and was due to a worker having been positive for coronavirus, who had been put under home quarantine.
“Production at our three Czech sites has been suspended since March 18, 2020. It was the right decision to take such drastic action in order to keep everyone safe. But now the time has come to start looking ahead with great optimism once more. Škoda dealerships are gradually reopening across Europe, and by successively resuming production, we are also taking the next important step in order to be able to internationally deliver vehicles to the markets again,” Škoda Auto CEO Bernhard Maier said when the reopening was announced.
“I would like to thank all members of staff who have been working hard over the past few days and weeks to make the restart of production possible. The Škoda team is fully committed and eager to recommence their work,”he added.
Michael Oeljeklaus, Škoda Auto board member for production and logistics, added that throughout the entire shutdown, the company has been giving preparations for the restart of production our full attention. “In addition to safeguarding our supply chains, we have also looked at the opportunities for our members of staff who commute to work across borders,” he said.
Bohdan Wojnar, Škoda Auto board member for human resources, said the company has worked closely with trde union KOVO, over the past few weeks to develop a Safe Production and‘Safe Office concept. “This will see the introduction of more than 80 concrete precautions applicable to all factory premises and office buildings in order to protect our workforce in the best-possible way once operations have resumed.”
The list calls for all employees to put on a face mask when entering the factory premises. This is also applicable to external staff. Škoda Auto will provide the masks, which will have to be worn at all times while at work. Each shift has been allocated additional time to clean tools, telephones and keyboards as well as any materials and surfaces. Furthermore, all areas will be cleaned and disinfected even more frequently.
Škoda Auto said it has also made some changes to daily operations including adapting the way staff shuttles operate, and altering procedures at factory gates, reception points and in the cafeterias, as well as how working hours are recorded.
Other provisions have been made for staff in production to work in smaller, fixed teams. Briefings at shift changeover are to be as short as possible, and more break areas have been made available in order to keep personal contact and the risk of infection to a minimum.
Employees are also encouraged to work from home, and the number of people present in the office at the same time has been reduced to ensure a safe distance can be kept from others.
Škoda Auto is also providing plenty of disinfectant, and posters remind the company’s members of staff about general precautions, such as keeping a safe distance from others, refraining from shaking hands, regularly washing or disinfecting their hands, and coughing and sneezing into their sleeves. In addition, random temperature checks are carried out at the entrances of the company premises, the carmaker said.
Škoda Auto is informing its workforce about the protective measures at all sites in the Czech Republic using leaflets and posters as well as through various digital channels. Managers and supervisors are also familiarizing their teams with the specific safety precautions for their respective departments, the carmaker said.
The special procedures will eventually be lifted in three phases as the situation with coronavirus improves.
The other major automakers in the Czech Republic had also suspended production. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech (HMMC), based in Nošovice, restarted April 14. Toyota Peugeot Citroën Automobile (TPCA), in Kolin, is set to restart May 4.
Škoda is the largest private employer in the Czech Republic, accounting for some 5% of national GDP. The auto industry overall accounts for 10% of the Czech economic output and 150,000 jobs.
There will likely be a long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis, with some people delaying car purchases due to lost wages from being out of work. Carmakers will likely have to respond with layoffs and cutbacks on temporary workers.
During the shutdown, Škoda turned used professional-grade 3D printers in its research department to make respirators for medical staff, as these were in short supply.
This year, Škoda is celebrating 125 years since the company was founded in 1895, making it one of the longest-established car manufacturers in the world. It delivered 1.24 million vehicles to customers around the world in 2019. Škoda has been part of German-based Volkswagen Group since 1991.