BELGIUM: Members "smashed" says union as Genk closure looms

By Simon Warburton | 28 November 2014

"Our local University calculated the loss of jobs at around 11,000 people" - ABVV provincial president Rohnny Champagne

"Our local University calculated the loss of jobs at around 11,000 people" - ABVV provincial president Rohnny Champagne

A Ford union at its Genk plant says members will be "smashed" as the automaker prepares imminently to shut the Belgium site with 4,500 direct job losses and possibly thousands more in the supply chain.

The ABVV union estimates the final production day will be around 18 or 19 December as the US company shifts to Valencia, although it seems the plant will also be hit by a massive nationwide strike just days before.

Genk recently stopped Mondeo output as Valencia increases production with the redesigned version and by the end of this year, the Spanish site will start the replacement for the S-Max.

Ford's drastic pruning will see the automaker axe European capacity by around 18% - the equivalent to removing 350,000 units of installed assembly capability - but its downsizing will also see up to a potential 11,000 people lose their jobs.

The ABVV union commissioned a University report, estimating as well as the 4,500 direct redundancies, trickle-down effects through the supply chain and beyond would create many thousands more queuing up in unemployment centres.

A head of union steam has been steadily building since the election of Belgium's new, right-of-centre coalition at what is perceived as unnecessarily tough austerity measures and despite Ford's imminent closure of Genk, it appears the factory could see industrial action next month.

"They [Ford] are planning to end production somewhere around 18 or 19 December," ABVV provincial president, Rohnny Champagne, told just-auto in the union's metalworking headquarters in Brussels today (28 November).

"That will depend on what we do on 15 December - there is a 24h strike in Belgium with three national unions - we are so lucky to have elected [a] right-wing government without any conciliation.

"It is 4,500 people at Ford in Genk - 400 - 500 have left the plant and the rest are probably going on unemployment - I wouldn't say for ever but it feels like that. Our guys will be smashed in unemployment."

The union chief also aimed both barrels squarely at the Flemish government, which he maintained had not made enough effort to secure the future of the gigantic factory.

"They [government] exactly did nothing," he said. If there were some interested parties, it was because we contacted them. Our local University calculated the loss of jobs at around 11,000 people, who would directly or indirectly lose their income."

Punch Metals has been in discussions to potentially take over around 200 stamping jobs in the Genk press shop, but it remains unclear to what extent those talks have progressed.

Ford previously declined to comment on the speculation, while reports also indicate the Flemish Government will benefit from around EUR50m (US$62m) in European Union funding to help mitigate the effects of Genk's closure.

Sources in Belgium equally speculate there will be 'two minutes of noise' at noon on 18 December with Genk sirens and churches being called on to protest at the last model rolling off the factory line.

Ford Europe COO, Barb Samardzich, recently insisted the automaker had been "working so well with our union colleagues and appreciate the efforts they have been making."