GERMANY: Germans to bear 50-60% of Opel job cuts; Antwerp future cloudy

By Graeme Roberts | 26 November 2009

General Motors Europe interim head Nick Reilly said late on Wednesday that "50 to 60%" of the company's planned 9,000 job cuts at European unit Opel/Vauxhall would occur in Germany. Meanwhile, the future of the Antwerp plant in Belgium is "uncertain".

"In terms of the specific numbers... it's approximately 50% in Germany. That's the suggested number. As I said, we are going to consult, so I'm not giving a final number," Reilly told reporters, according to AFP.

He then added: "I would change that to 50 to 60%."

Reilly said no final decisions had yet been made. The company would soon begin an information-sharing and consultation phase with all stakeholders.

"We must create a sustainable, viable business plan for Opel/Vauxhall. The competition is intense and getting fiercer every day. We have to reduce our costs," Reilly said. "We must fight hard to keep our manufacturing operations in Europe viable."

Opel/Vauxhall has to reduce capacity by around 20%. That could mean a reduction of approximately 9,000 jobs in Europe, he said. Company representatives and unions agreed to form a working group to discuss a future for Antwerp, whose future is "uncertain. We will consider all alternatives," he said.

The company agreed to make no unilateral decisions during the information and consultation period, but Reilly added that the company was aiming for closure of the discussion by years' end - it is in the best interests of the employees and company alike.  "We all have the same objective: To create a viable, sustainable company. This is very do-able. I look forward to further cooperation with employee representatives."

Around 2,300 people work at Antwerp.

Opel had earlier denied a German media report that parent GM planned to cut 5,300 jobs at the plants in Germany, saying that figure was much too high.

According to Reuters, news agency dpa had cited company sources as saying that GM planned to cut 8,700 jobs in Europe, more than 80% of which were in Germany and Belgium.

In Germany, 5,300 jobs would go, most of which at Opel's Ruesselsheim headquarters and in Bochum, dpa said.

In a series of statements, Reilly said all four plants in Germany would remain open though there would be "some voluntary redundancies".

He said Bochum "will play an important role in the European Opel/Vauxhall manufacturing network in the future and will continue to build products for the company.

"I am counting on Kaiserslautern for sure," Reilly said after the meeting there.

An existing plan for the future of the plant, which produces engines and components, which had been discussed previously with employee representatives, would now be the basis for moving forward but would include voluntary job reductions, which could be offered relatively soon, he said.

"The plant in Eisenach is a significant resource for the production of Corsa cars for the long term. If the market situation allows, it is our intention to increase production volume to full capacity by 2012," Reilly said.

The Eisenach, Ruesselsheim, Bochum and Kaiserslautern factories collectively employ 25,000 workers, half the European total.