MUNICH – Workers blocked access to part of a General Motors Co. assembly plant in Belgium in protest at the likely closure of the factory with the loss of 2,300 staff.
Risking a showdown with labor unions, Opel CEO Nick Reilly is pressing ahead with the closure of the carmaker's factory in the Belgian port city of Antwerp.
GM had warned for weeks that the plant's future was in jeopardy as it moves to chop around 8,300 jobs and cut capacity in Europe by a fifth.
An official at Belgium's ACV union said that Opel Antwerp would hold an extraordinary meeting of its work council on Thursday morning, and that the European management of Opel had planned a meeting in Brussels shortly beforehand.
"If the Antwerp plant closes, in this climate it will not be easy to find something else," said Gursel Atac, who has worked at the factory for the past 15 years. Late on Wednesday, unions blocked the entrance to the site where new cars were parked.
Opel unions are still holding out hope for a come-from-behind victory for a restructuring plan that will be finalized before the end of this month.
Hopes for SUV dashed
Antwerp is one of four GM plants in Europe, which build the key Astra compact model.
The factory had been expected to gain production of a subcompact SUV to replace Astra volume that has been transferred to other Opel plants. Reilly, however, has long stated his preference that the SUV should be manufactured in South Korea by GM Daewoo, the GM unit where both he and Opel's new chief financial officer previously served in top management.
Daewoo is already in charge of developing GM's global subcompact "Gamma" platform that will underpin the future Corsa hatchback and Meriva small van.
Unions have repeatedly argued that closing Antwerp and letting go of staff there would also be costly and drain liquidity that could otherwise be used to invest in new models.
Opel's European works council boss Klaus Franz warned that Reilly's Viability Plan VI for restructuring money-losing Opel and British sister brand Vauxhall used a very weak 2010 to base its future market assumptions.
"The cuts are so deep that there will not be enough production capacity in Europe when sales volumes rise in the coming years," he wrote in a letter to staff, seen by Reuters.
A spokesman for the Flemish government said the regional authority remained committed to securing a future for the plant.
Unions have rescue plan
Belgian unionist Rene Boone pointed to a business model worked out between Antwerp's management and workers that they believed would generate an overall net profit contribution of half a billion euros over the next seven years.
"(The plant) has great plans for the future but top management do not want to do anything for Antwerp," he said.
Belgium has a standing offer to extend 500 million euros in state aid -- including loan guarantees and a sale and leaseback deal -- should Opel safeguard production in Antwerp.
"The 500 million euro offer by Belgium was rejected," Franz said in the staff letter.
Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall -- kept afloat by a German state bailout last year when GM dipped into U.S. bankruptcy -- are pushing through a radical restructuring program amid weak car markets.
The company is counting on around 2.7 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in European taxpayer aid for the scheme, details of which are expected this month