A major Belgian union is comparing news outgoing PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO, Philippe Varin was apparently due a EUR21m (US$28.6m) pension payoff to “a ghost walking through Europe”.

Varin earlier came under withering criticism from hardline French union, CGT, who contrasted his enormous financial package with the plight of those shortly to lose their jobs at PSA’s Aulnay plant near Paris, slated to close next year.

Talking to just-auto this morning (Friday, 29 November) in the Brussels headquarters of the ACOD union, ABVV labour body regional president, Rhonny Champagne, added his trenchant assessment of the situation, despite Varin’s decision to forgo the EUR21m.

“There seems to be a kind of ghost walking through Europe, a kind of way of thinking that it should be normal for guys to restructure and get out with a big bonus themselves,” said Champagne. “Almost as if it is a great gift, a great thing to do, to close down or restructure.

“If economics drive you to the fact you should restructure, our guys understand that, but every time you see [the] guy who is responsible [for] the closure or restructure, if they get a lot of money, it is a slap in our face if you compare it to the peanuts they hand out to their own employees.”

The subject of payoffs is particularly sensitive in Belgium at the moment as Champagne and his union have been negotiating with Ford, which plans to shutter its Genk plant next year, with what some academics estimate to be the loss of up to 11,000 jobs when the supply chain impact is taken into account.

Ford’s move to close its factory in the eastern region of Limburger will come as a hammer blow to the area, which underwent a painful restructuring of its own with the ending of its mining industry and could see Belgian unemployment climb to French levels approaching 11%.

“I am living between hope and fear – especially fear we will have a setback in our province of Limburg due to the closure of Ford,” said Champagne. “More people are getting into poverty – poverty is making them sick and I mean physically sick.”

Champagne conceded the EUR170,000 Genk payoff – reserved for those with most seniority – the majority of staff will receive between EUR100,000 and EUR120,000 – would give staff some “breathing space,” but he raised concerns for their future employment prospects.

The union leader also aimed his fire at the regional government in Flanders, who he claimed were not attracting sufficient inward investment.

“In the past we had some guys who lived a royal life, but they at least travelled the world to find investment.,” he said. [Now] “I don’t see results – I don’t see new companies and there is the difference.

“Times are difficult – it is harder to convince companies to invest in Belgium because if you talk about a [perceived high] wage handicap, everyone will believe it.”