Volkswagen institutes short-lived witness protection program with no real protection

Volkswagen's new penal colony: The plant in Pune, India

Volkswagen’s new penal colony: The plant in Pune, India

Yesterday, Volkswagen finally made official an offer that has been rumored for weeks: Help find the perpetrators of dieselgate, and you won’t be fired. The trouble is: You still could lose your job. You might even have to go to jail.

On Thursday, everybody at Volkswagen with access to the corporate intranet could read a limited offer by Volkswagen: Join the “Kooperationsprogramm zur Aufklärung” (cooperation program for clarification,) provide information that brings light into the who and how of Volkswagen’s diesel and CO2 scandals, and you won’t get fired. However, there are a number of nasty gotchas:

  • The offer is only good until November 30, 2015.
  • The offer applies only to collective bargaining employees (“Tarifangestellte”). Upper echelons may not apply.
  • Volkswagen reserves the right to transfer its crown witnesses to other locations or other jobs.
  • A crown witness remains unprotected from actions by law enforcement, public prosecutors, or courts.

Volkswagen insiders opined to Dailykanban that the program, and especially its short lifespan, are a “sign of immense pressure” the company’s leadership is subjected to. It also is a sign that internal investigations have produced very little. The same sources doubt that the new program will produce much more:

The program excludes not just top managers, but anyone from the better paid expert on upwards. In Volkswagen’s home state Lower Saxony, the top month salary under collective bargaining is 5,528 Euro. Make more, and you are on your own.

The stated possibility to be transferred or re-assigned turns the offer into a hollow promise, and another example of VW double-speak, a contact at Volkswagen says. Actual firings are extremely rare at Volkswagen. Even the managers that were let go immediately after the scandal broke are not fired, they are on vacation. The common punishment at Volkswagen is to be reassigned to a non-job, or to be transferred to the Nome, Alaska, equivalent in Volkswagen’s empire. Ten years ago, Volkswagen’s outpost in frigid Changchun, China, was the company’s penal camp. Now, it’s Kaluga, Pune, India. Get transferred to Pune, and your colleagues at VW will automatically ask: “What are you in for?”

Volkswagen’s inability to protect its witnesses from the law is seen as an even bigger hurdle. “Different countries have different laws,” says a contact at Volkswagen. “What’s right or wrong often is in a grey zone, and open to interpretation. It’s easier to keep your mouth shut, and to avoid making mistakes.”

Or, as another contact said: “If I come forward, I end up in Changchun, if I maintain cover, they ship me to India? Nein, danke.”

The biggest impediment however seems to be the need to cooperate with Volkswagen’s dreaded Interne Revision,  the in-house propriety squad that has a worse image than a big city’s police department’s Internal Affairs in a bad cop film.  No wonder the really good people at Volkswagen are thinking of  leaving the company, and to go out on their own. Even that is being frustrated. More and more companies in Germany don’t want to have anything to do with you if you worked at Volkswagen.