GM Europe to Close Belgian Opel Plant

2,600 jobs will be lost at plant

General Motors Europe announced to unions on Jan. 21 that it is to close its Opel auto production plant in Antwerp, in a blow that Belgian industry said would cost 5,000 jobs all told.

The site will be closed over "the course of 2010," an Opel statement said. A union representative immediately announced a blockade, saying no finished cars would be allowed out of the plant.

In Germany, Opel directors said the factory directly employs just over 2,600 people. Previously, it was thought that certain senior management figures on-site would be retained and re-assigned.

Belgian technological industry federation Agoria said at least 5,000 jobs in the region could be lost amid the long-term knock-on effects of the closure. Spokesman Rene Konings said sub-contractors would be spared immediate hardship through contracts with other plants within the group's European division.

"They have announced to us their intention to proceed towards collective redundancy and the closure of the business," said Walter Cnop, of the CSC union's metalworkers' branch. Cnop said no production was planned on Jan. 22 or Jan. 25 anyway, but that from Jan. 26, "the factory will remain blocked until such time as we decide to let finished cars out."

He underlined: "We're not stopping anyone going in, individual parts can get in."

Workers began blocking access to the northern Belgian factory on Jan. 20, fearing the axe would finally fall at the planned meeting.

"It's an absolute catastrophe for Belgian workers and manufacturing," Cnop added, slamming management "arrogance" and a decision he said was "based on political considerations in no way assessed on economic grounds."

"We are seen as antiquated objects," sighed Joeri, who has worked for Opel for 22 years.

An emergency meeting with the office of Belgium's devolved Flemish government leader Kris Peeters late on Jan. 21 afternoon will precede redundancy and resettlement talks with the company over the coming weeks and months.

"The decision to announce this today was not taken lightly... We must make this announcement now so that we can secure a viable future for the entire Opel and Vauxhall operations," said Opel chief executive Nick Reilly. "To ensure long-term sustainability for the company, Opel needs to reduce capacity by approximately 20%," the statement added.

A broad restructuring plan is expected to include the elimination of 8,300 jobs from a total of almost 50,000 in Europe.

Opel needs 3.3 billion euros (US$4.7 billion) to finance its plan, and hopes to get 2.7 billion euros from countries where Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall have operations.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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