Kia Car Plant Morning Exercises Create Culture Shock

The arrival of South Korean carmaker Kia Motors in Slovakia has created a cultural shock at the company's first European plant. Kia's obligatory morning gymnastics sessions have been snubbed by most of the workforce, forcing management to stretch a point and change established practice.

Obligatory exercises have now been transformed into voluntary sessions following the mostly hostile reaction from existing and would-be employees. If the concept of a few minutes of "soft stretching" to start the day has worked well elsewhere, for Slovaks it's conjured up images from its not too distant totalitarian past. Obligatory exercise sessions revived memories of the communist era, when the young, willing or not, took part in mass gymnastics exhibitions called "spartakiada".

Kia Motors' spokesman in Slovakia, Dusan Dvorak, said the presentation of the exercises rather than the concept itself caused the problems. "These are practices which the Koreans would like to apply in Slovakia because of their positive experience as this type of exercise encourages relaxation and helps to increase safety at work," explained Dvorak, who has participated in the stretching sessions himself.

Kia Motors, part of the group Hyundai/Kia Automotive, launched construction of its one-billion-euro Slovak plant in October 2004. The first car for sale should roll off the production lines in December this year. Full production capacity of around 300,000 cars a year should be reached in 2008-2009.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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