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Honda puts office workers on production line as COVID-19 bites

By Tim Robson, 31 Jul 2020 Car News

White-collar Honda workers hit the assembly floor as industry reels under COVID-19

Staff shortages see marketing and accounting staff building cars as industry records staggering losses

A Honda plant in the US has called on its back-office staff to pick up tools on the factory floor as COVID-19-related staff shortages take hold in the pandemic-riddled United States.

The manufacturing plant in Marysville, Ohio has emailed its staff, including personnel in purchasing, quality assurance and accounting, with a request to “work temporarily in the production area”.

“The COVID pandemic has created many challenges, but Honda will continue to work to overcome them” read an email to the staff.

It’s understood plant officials initially asked for volunteers to hit the assembly lines, before making it a formal requirement. The plant makes Accords and CR-Vs for the US market.

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Line workers – or ‘associates’ as Honda calls them – have been falling ill with COVID-19, or have been exposed to those who have been diagnosed, forcing them into quarantine.

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It’s understood many of the white-collar workers who have been ordered to take up manufacturing roles have been working from home during the pandemic.

While absent workers are partly to blame for the shift of white-collar workers to the factory floor, the US government’s version of JobKeeper – known as the CARES Act – is also impacting labour forces, with Honda unable to attract casual workers to fill the slots.

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Honda’s sales in its biggest market fell by nearly 200,000 cars in the first half of 2020, but an increase in demand has caught the company by surprise.

It’s a similar tale across the global automotive industry, with the world’s largest companies posting some staggering losses.

Volkswagen, for example, posted a A$5 billion loss in the second quarter of 2020 and is staring at yet another large loss next quarter as it grapples with a potential A$20 billion judgment against it over the Dieselgate fiasco.

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The Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance, meanwhile, posted huge losses for the first six months of the year, with Renault losing $14 billion and Nissan $8 billion.

Mitsubishi also announced it would withdraw from Europe and the UK after posting its own $3 billion loss.