There are some pretty tough words coming from Belgian unions at the moment following GM’s Opel unit’s decision to pull the plug on the search for an industrial investor at its Antwerp site.
Frantic rounds of conference calls have been turning the phone lines red hot between Antwerp and a whole host of multi-acronym European unions from the UK to Poland.
And there’s another batch slated for tomorrow (7 October) as the fate of 1,200 or so workers currently producing the Astra model in Belgium hangs in the balance.
There seems to have been plenty of noise indicating a potential investor for the Antwerp factory may be Chinese and the wise betting money is on Geely.
The Chinese automaker already has a substantial interest in Belgium through its recently acquired Volvo subsidiary’s Ghent plant that turns out a not inconsequential 181,000 vehicles a year.
Producing the C30, S40, V50, S60 and XC60, Volvo – and now Geely – are major players on the Belgian automaking stage and there now happens to be another major factory up for potential grabs just down the road in Antwerp.
Nobody – not GM nor the unions – is confirming Geely but there is a highly skilled workforce of 1,200 desperate to remain highly skilled workers – and the clock is ticking.
The unions are complaining loudly and bitterly that Opel has set far too ambitious a timetable, but GM hits back that bids submitted have not been detailed enough. “A lot of commercial conditions and not with a business plan” as a GM spokeswoman put it to just-auto this week.
Opel has imposed a deadline of 31 December for production to end after another 10,000 or so Astras have been made but the labour organisations insist more time should have been given.
“From day one we said the timetable was not possible to fulfil,” GM European works council vice chairman Rudi Kennes told just-auto from Belgium today.
“We were running at least five weeks behind schedule. Opel had said if there was a fish on the hook that [it] would give every chance to try to sell the plant.”
There now appears to be a Chinese fish in the pond and one more reason to hook it has just arisen in the guise of the Flemish government.
Mindful of the huge publicity the Opel closure has generated, Flanders minister president Kris Peeters has now stepped forward with a loan guarantee offer – and there’s a certain irony there given Opel’s frustrating pursuit of guarantees from the German government earlier this year.
No figure is being given but the Flemish offer to underwrite any loans could quite possibly tempt the Chinese – Geely? – into the open.
A further conference call between the unions is scheduled for tomorrow with speculation that Chinese investors have already been in touch.
Until then, in the words of Rudi Kennes, there is “absolute radio silence.” But the senior union leader noted the – undisclosed – investors were “very disappointed to read in the media there had been a decision”.
Given the building momentum, will GM reconsider its timetable?