Major Belgian trade union, ABVV Metaal, says Ford is creating a climate of “fear” ahead of tomorrow’s (24 October) crunch meeting at the automaker’s Genk site with the labour body bracing itself for a major restructuring announcement.
Ford employs around 4,300 staff at its Belgian plant and has asked for an emergency Works Council meeting tomorrow, with the ABVV union anticipating bad news.
“With this kind of announcement, they create a fear and make their own guys speculate about their future,” ABVV Metaal provincial president Limburg, Rohnny Champagne, told just-auto from Belgium where he was due to visit the Genk plant this evening.
“It is more than annoying the unions they are being treated in this disrespectful way. After this [discussion] they have arranged a meeting with the Flemish Minister President, so I don’t think it is a meeting about the choice of Christmas tree.”
Neither Ford in Belgium or Germany was immediately available for comment, but a spokesman for the automaker in Cologne yesterday told just-auto the company did not comment on discussions with unions.
ABVV’s insistence Ford was meeting first the regional President and then Belgium’s Prime Minister, Elio di Rupo, would indicate the issue is being taken seriously at the very highest level, with the memory of General Motors ‘ decision to axe its Antwerp plant almost two years ago, still fresh in the memory.
“It is making the life of 10,000 families in our province almost impossible,” Champagne said, noting unions were currently blockading the gates at the Genk factory.
“The meeting is scheduled for two hours. The least worst it will take some time – in the worst scenario it will be only ten minutes.”
In a twist to the events unfolding in Belgium, the ABVV spokesman added tomorrow marked exactly 50 years since Ford started production at the Genk plant.
“I hope it won’t [be] a death anniversary, but I am a bit afraid it will be,” said Champagne.
Earlier today (23 October), LMC Automotive told just-auto it estimated annual capacity at Genk of around 270,000 units. However, production last year totalled just 178,127 units, yielding a 66% rate of capacity utilisation.
This year capacity utilisation at Genk is forecast to decline further to around 50% as production falls to 134,000 units. On current plans LMC forecasts capacity utilisation at Genk to fall further in 2013 and it is projected at a level of just 50% in 2017.
LMC estimates that capacity utilisation needs to be around 80% for a plant to be ‘rule of thumb’ healthy and around the point of break-even.
The ABVV union represents almost 18,000 metalworkers in Belgium.