BELGIUM: Ford Genk restart uncertain as union leaders held for 11 hours
Confusion surrounds whether or not Ford will be able to resume production at its Genk plant in Belgium tomorrow (22 January) following an extraordinary situation last week that saw union leaders blockaded in a Town Hall for 11 hours.
The ABVV union said there was a series of stop-start attempts to resume production last week following a ballot but that pickets at Ford suppliers had halted flow of parts.
The labour body said the problem lay with some supplier members' fears they would not be included in Ford's social plan for its own 4,300 workers due to be made redundant next year as the automaker shutters the Genk plant in the face of plunging European orders.
"We mentioned from day one without a similar social plan for suppliers, there would not be production possible, not even for one car," ABVV union provincial president, Rohnny Champagne, told just-auto from Belgium.
"Today, we saw an intervention from Ford with a legal procedure to make sure the way for suppliers was free. Someone who can enforce the law [bailiff] went to the picket line this morning with some policemen to make sure there was free passage for everyone who is willing to work.
"If no-one is assembling an engine or seat or dashboard, no-one will build a car. We try to reassure our guys on the supplier side. If they [agree] Ford will start calling in the late afternoon to try to start tomorrow morning."
But despite optimism from the ABVV union - which represents 2,000 of Genk's 4,300 staff - Ford is less hopeful a quick return to work can be achieved.
"We have no indication it [work] will start tomorrow," a Ford spokesman in Belgium told just-auto. "We first have to ensure all parties at the suppliers have agree [d] on going back to work .
"As long as we don't have 100% indication on the supplier part, it does not make sense that the Ford plant will start production. We are talking to the suppliers continuously."
The uncertainty surrounding any resumption of production follows a virtual siege of high drama last week as union leaders including Champagne and attempting to broker a deal with suppliers, were blockaded in Genk Town Hall as protesters refused to allow them to leave.
"We had a meeting with the main delegates from Ford suppliers," said Champagne. "Some 20-25 delegates from the three different unions came into the room and broke some things and made some noise.
"I would not call it taking us hostage, but at least they would not let us go. We were there for 11 hours and they refused to let us go. By 22:30, the police entered the room in plain clothes and asked what was going on.
"By that time we were forced to call everyone we knew to try to force the managers from the four plants to come to that meeting - no-one was willing knowing we were held in that room."
Champagne added he was not happy the ballot to return to work last week had not resulted in new production but had ended up with his members suffering financially.
"When you put out a ballot and there is a majority, that is democracy," he said. "If that kind of energy is also stimulated by a few left-wing parties [people] you get this kind of thing.
"For them it is easy to say whatever and leave the guys in misery."
Ford noted production had resumed for one day in January, but was immediately halted due to lack of components.
"We hope for good news in the next coming days, but we are still watching it closely," said the Ford spokesman.
The Belgian and Flanders governments have both warned the Genk closure could throw at least 10,000 people out of work.