Workers at General Motors’ European Opel division in Antwerp have voted to accept a deal that could see more than half take redundancy.

In the first phase of the programme, around 1,250 staff at the plant might leave by the end of June, with acceptance of the deal now triggering a formal search for a new investor at the Belgian site.

That search will take the form of Opel/Vauxhall management and employee representatives cooperating immediately in a working group – led by the Flemish government – to find an outside investor.

Opel has given this stage of the agreement until September to work, but if no investor can be found, the automaker estimates the Antwerp plant could close by year-end.

“We are pleased about the result of the vote, first and foremost because it ends the uncertainty our employees in Antwerp experienced,” said Opel/Vauxhall CEO Nick Reilly.

“They have done a tremendous job in the past, and it is very important to us that they now have a basis for planning their own future.”

GM is seeking state aid worth EUR1.8bn (US$2.4bn) in Europe, with Germany accounting for between 50% and 60% of this figure, to help finance a wide-ranging turnaround plan of its operations in the region.

“This solution is also a milestone in our quest to prepare Opel/Vauxhall for future success,” added Reilly.

“Following the labour agreements in the UK and Spain in March, I am confident we can now come to an agreement with our employee representatives about the planned cost reductions on a European level”