Former heated discussions between Ford’s Belgian unions and management appear to have thrown any new date for negotiations into disarray as both sides attempt to meet to discuss the planned Genk plant closure.
Ford intends to shut the Genk plant in 2014 with the loss of 4,300 jobs – as well as potentially far more in the Belgian supply chain – but trouble at a previous meeting in Cologne appears to have led the automaker to adopt a more cautious approach to talks tentatively mooted for 29 November.
“They [Ford of Europe] are refusing to come to the [Genk] plant, so we just let them know it is not a problem to meet outside the plant, but not in Cologne,” ABVV Metaal provincial president Limburg, Rohnny Champagne, told just-auto. “They will have to come to our neighbourhood.
“The most easy excuse of course, is they are afraid for their security. That is what they gave us as an official reason for not coming. Of course we would guarantee their security – it is a little bit [of a] cheap excuse.”
The previous meeting between both sides in Cologne appears to have involved considerable aggravation, with rogue union elements setting fire to tyres, throwing firecrackers and breaking a glass door.
According to ABVV, a stand-off appears to have developed with the 225 union members from several Belgian labour bodies being outnumbered by a huge number of police.
Genk has suffered from considerable under-utilisation with LMC Automotive estimating production last year totalled just 178,000 units against a capacity of 270,000 vehicles.
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 capacity utilisation needs to be around 80% for a plant to be ‘rule of thumb’ healthy and around the point of break-even.
ABVV represents almost 18,000 metalworkers in Belgium.
Ford of Europe in Cologne was not immediately available for comment.