Feb. 21 - French workers have hit back at scathing comments made about them by an American tycoon. Maurice Taylor, the CEO of U.S. tire company Titan International told France's industry minister in a letter published by French media that he didn't want to take over a struggling tire plant as the workforce ''works only three hours''. The vicious exchange is another knock to France's business image, at a time when it is losing competitiveness to neighbor Germany. Joanna Partridge reports.
The unassuming French tyre factory at the centre of a spat between an American CEO and France's Industry Minister. The French government is looking for a buyer for the struggling Goodyear plant in northern France. They approached Maurice "Morry" Taylor, boss of tyre company Titan International. Known as "The Grizz" for his no-nonsense style, his response wasn't entirely what they'd hoped for. He said the French workforce "gets paid high wages but only works three hours" a day. He wrote a letter to the Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg saying he would be stupid to take over the factory and would rather buy in China or India. The union delegate at the Amiens plant says that didn't go down well with the workers. SOUNDBITE: Mickael Semedo, CGT Union delegate at Goodyear in Amiens, saying (French): "We will retaliate, that's not a problem. Mr. Taylor will learn that people in France don't inuslt each other like they do in other countries. We're respectful, we work, we will remain proud and continue to fight against this type of person. He's a megalomaniac." Montebourg wrote a scathing response. And the head of the French employers' association Laurence Parisot also hit back. SOUNDBITE: Laurence Parisot, Head of MEDEF employers' association, saying (French): "There's something completely unacceptable in the letter from the Chairman of Titan. He points out anomalies which may have existed in our companies, but he generalises about the way all companies function in France, and this generalisation is shocking." The vicious exchange won't help France's business image, which is already dented. Montebourg was recently mocked abroad for criticising firms which wanted to close struggling sites and for telling the boss of Indian steelmaker ArcelorMittal he was unwelcome in France. The government's also under fire for its planned 75% "millionaires' tax". France does have some of the best productivity levels per head in Europe. But economists say it's rigid laws for hiring and firing are responsible for industrial decline that's hit exports. Others say the 35-hour working week makes France less competitive than its neighbour, Germany. If a buyer isn't found for the Amiens Nord plant, the site will close and 1200 workers will lose their jobs.