Belgian unions declare Opel blockade

January 22
Unions yesterday announced a blockade of the Opel factory in Antwerp after a decision by General Motors, the parent company, to close it this year with the loss of all 2,600 jobs.

The Astra production line in Belgium was the only plant earmarked for shutdown in GM’s plans to shed 8,300 of its 43,000 European workers, including some 4,000 in Germany. Jobs at the Vauxhall production plants in Luton and Ellesmere Port would not be affected, the company said, and the move was designed to ensure their survival.

The announcement, although not unexpected, added to a miserable industrial relations climate in Belgium, with angry firefighters dousing government buildings in Brussels in foam yesterday to protest at wage restraint and prison officers continuing with their strike action.

However, unions at InBev, the brewer, agreed to ask workers today to lift a two-week blockade that has emptied shelves of Stella, after progress in talks designed to save some of the 303 planned redundancies, one-tenth of the workforce.
Nick Reilly, chief executive of Opel, said: “We have to take a plant out and unfortunately it is Antwerp. It is the tough reality of the current business environment.” He added: “We must make this announcement now so that we can secure a viable future for the entire Opel and Vauxhall operations.”

GM said that the economic crisis meant that car sales in Europe would take a long time, if ever, to regain the peak of 14.7 million seen in 2007. GM expects sales will not exceed 11 million this year.

Walter Cnop, of the CSC union, said: “The factory will remain blocked until such time as we decide to let finished cars out.”

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