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March 9, 2010

BELGIUM: Union suggests rescue plan for Opel Antwerp

Hopes of at least a partial rescue for Opel's doomed plant in Antwerp, Belgium, have been raised following a proposal from unions today (9 March).

Hopes of at least a partial rescue for Opel’s doomed plant in Antwerp, Belgium, have been raised following a proposal from unions today (9 March).

The Belgian plant is slated for closure by parent General Motors this year as part of a major cost cutting plan that will see European capacity slashed by 20% and 8,300 jobs axed.

However, three unions involved with negotiations to halt the Antwerp closure have come up with proposals to retain at least some future for the Belgian factory, although on a smaller scale.

According to GM, the union plan hinges on finding a suitable – and as yet unamed – investor to take over the plant with Opel potentially maintaining a minority stake.

A statement said: “The plant would be significantly downsized but would continue to build the Opel Astra TwinTop [coupe-convertible] while at the same time try to attract additional business from third parties.

“Until the evaluation has been concluded and a decision has been made, we will not speculate on the feasibility of this proposal.”

Under Belgian legislation known as ‘La Loi Renault,’ labour organisations are allowed to put forward alternatives once a closure has been announced.

Although in its very early stages, the move by the unions – and Opel’s willingness at least to examine the proposals – represents considerable progress from the European Metalworkers Federation’s earlier view that negotiations were at a stalemate.

“After the announcement to close the plant on 21 January, we [had] the information and consultation phase,” an Opel spokeswoman in Belgium said.

“During this phase, unions can put forward alternatives to a possible closure. Management then has to reply and evaluate.”

Opel had planned to build a GM Daewoo-designed SUV at Antwerp but later said “this plan had to be changed.”

GM last week said it would triple its funding commitment to the Opel/Vauxhall restructuring to EUR1.9bn (US$2.6bn).

Belgian unions could not be reached immediately for comment.

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