Unions question Belgian Opel plant closure

11th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Belgian unions on Thursday questioned reported plans by the future owners of GM unit Opel to "wind down" a totemic production plant in the northern city of Antwerp with the potential loss of 2,500 jobs.

BRUSSELS - As the scale of job losses sank in, the head of the Flemish government called on the European Commission to probe conditions attached to hefty German state aid he said came at Antwerp's expense.

General Motors vice president John Smith, speaking after GM announced the planned sale of Opel to Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna and state-owned Russian bank Sberbank, said Magna was considering winding down the Opel plant in Antwerp and shifting some production from Zaragoza, Spain to Germany.

"It's a GM boss who said that, not Magna," Luc Van Grinsven of Belgium's biggest union confederation, the CSC, told Belgian TV. "Let's wait to see what the discussions with Magna can bring up."

Van Grinsven said a Europe-wide works committee for Opel, which employs over 50,000 workers across the continent, had sought assurances on three issues relating to the sale.

He cited "no straight redundancies, no factory closure(s) and an equitable sharing out of capacity."

Half of Opel's European jobs are concentrated in Germany, whose Chancellor Angela Merkel was Magna's biggest political supporter and where a series of plants are expected to be spared amid heavy state investment aid.

Unions in Austria, Britain, France and Poland are also awaiting clarification as to their fate.

"The people who were seated round the table during these negotiations are aware of (these demands) and I think they will have been taken into account," Van Grinsven added.

According to GM Europe's website, the company employs 2,584 workers in Belgium and its small neighbour Luxembourg, 2,377 of whom were listed as involved in production.

Werner Dillen of the CSC and Rudi Kennes of Belgium's FGTB trade union had earlier said Magna represented "the least bad scenario" for the workers in Flanders, the latter terming it Antwerp's "only hope."

Flemish government head Kris Peeters said he had made contact with Magna seeking clarification of their plans.

Is it a case of "phasing-out, or can we still talk?" he told Flemish TV.

Peeters said the company had told him at the end of July that Magna was "examining other possibilities" and called on the European Commission to investigate the strings attached to German state-aid running to 4.5 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars).

"We too have put millions on the table," he said, referring to an offer of up to 500 million euros.

"There remains a tiny bit of hope," he added.

Brussels-based investment group RHJ International lost out to Magna and Sberbank. Both bidders had said they wanted to cut 10,000 posts.


0 Comments To This Article