BELGIUM: ABVV union serves Ford with letter in a bid to restart talks
Ford Genk's largest union has delivered a notice to the US automaker in an attempt to drive the automaker back to the negotiating table concering the plannned closure of the Belgian plant
Announcement of Ford's plans has provoked intense union fury in Belgium and heavy criticismj from the both Brussels and Flanders governments, which have warned the move could throw at least 10,000 people out of work.
The overtly socialist ABVV union representing more than 2,000 of Ford Genk's 4,300 staff, already has bitter experieince of mass lay-offs in Belgium, following General Motors' closure of its Antwerp plant nearly two years ago with around 1,000 job losses.
"Ford's way of treating us - of dismissing our contract - is not the way we are doing things in Belgium," ABVV Metaal regional president, Rhonny Champagne, told just-auto at the union headquarters in Brussels today (30 November)
"Ford says in the contract, in small letters, a few lines that give them the right to end the contract. Indeed there are some phrases to end the contract if the market situation [worsens]. But suppose we should agree on a big market change, you have to come to the table and talk to us.
"You can't just simply send a letter to us telling us you want to close the plant. The market is falling apart - on the other hand overcapacity is not our choice - it is a choice of every car producer around the world. Why should we pay the prices for their choices?"
Champagne insisted the unions had already made significant concessions such as a 12% cut in costs, a wage freeze and seen perks such as bus travel to the plant and cafeteria benefits eroded.
The ABVV regional president claimed his union had "almost begged" Ford to introudce a smaller model in 2010 to address the growing economic crisis in Europe, as well as evaluating a hybrid and electric vehicle.
"Why is it always about maximising profit - why can it not be about people?" said Champagne, although adding the caveat: "I am not unrealistic - I saw what was coming."
Yesterday's meeting took place at Genk City Hall and not at the plant, with the encounter laced with a frisson of potential trouble following a certain amount of aggravation at a previous meeting in Cologne.
"They [Ford] drove with three cars with blacked out windows. I saw more officers in plain clothes than I ever saw and police officers with dogs," said Champagne. "There was no trouble yesterday.
"I just hope with our legal case it is telling them 'you did not come to the table - you did not even try to find a way out together with us.
"We have proved in the past we were willing to cut costs with 12% - it did not make me very popular with my own guys - we just did it. For me, it is not about being popular - it is about saving a future for my guys. The only real insurance against poverty is having a job."
A spokesman for Ford Belgium told just-auto: "The unions gave a letter written by one of their lawyers.
"We respect the opinion of the unions, but of course, we do not agree."