Berlin documentary explores value of work in Germany’s struggling car industry


BERLIN (Reuters) – Disruptions in Germany’s car industry are eroding job security and national identity, with the most vulnerable drawing more self-respect from work than the wealthy, the director of a documentary screening at this year’s Berlin Film Festival said.

The German documentary “Automotive” explores the value of work in the age of automation and digitization, with low-skilled workers struggling to keep their jobs in Germany’s mighty automobile industry.

The malaise in Germany’s car industry, caused by weaker demand from abroad, stricter emission rules and electrification, is starting to leave a wider mark on Europe’s largest economy by pushing up unemployment, eroding job security and hitting pay.

German auto manufacturers and their suppliers are expected to cut nearly a tenth of their 830,000 jobs in the next decade, the VDA industry association has said.

Some think-tanks and government officials fear that the toll will be higher as electric cars provide less assembly work than combustion engine vehicles, simple work steps are replaced by automation and companies relocate production.

The documentary follows 20-year-old Sedanur who during night shifts is sorting car parts on the assembly line for the robots at a near-by car factory in the Bavarian town of Ingolstadt.

But when the diesel emission scandal starts to hit, temp worker Sedanur is among the first to become unemployed.

Her dreams of getting a permanent job contract and earning enough money one day to buy a Mercedes Benz contrast sharply with the plans of Eva, a 33-year-old headhunter for Audi, which is looking for experts to automate some of its logistics.

Eva’s goal is to earn as much money as possible now so that she can escape this modern world of work as soon as possible and buy a property on the beach in the Caribbean with her partner.

“It’s interesting to see how differently both women view their job. For Eva, work is only a means to an end. For Sedanur, her job is partly her identity,” director Jonas Heldt said.

But even Eva with her well-paid, highly specialized job in headhunting sometimes fears that it is not 100 percent safe as improved algorithms one day could do her work as well.

“What I wanted to show with my documentary is how, sooner or later, everyone might be replaceable. And this poses important questions about the role and importance of work in the future,” Heldt said.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones