BELGIUM: Union vents fury on Ford as Punch Genk talks collapse

By Simon Warburton | 12 December 2014

The Genk union is in despair after Punch Genk talks imploded. Meanwhile, last week, Ford started making the Hybrid at the Mondeos new Spanish plant home in Valencia

The Genk union is in despair after Punch Genk talks imploded. Meanwhile, last week, Ford started making the Hybrid at the Mondeo's new Spanish plant home in Valencia

A major Ford Belgian union has reacted with fury to the automaker's decision to end talks with Punch Metals, branding the move "despicable" as the manufacturer's Genk site moves into its last week of production before closure.

The labour body's anger has been fuelled by what now seems to be little hope of saving around 200 stamping jobs at the Genk factory as Ford insisted "no viable plan" had been presented operating under normal market conditions, a position the ABVV socialist union vehemently condemns.

"At the end of the day it seems they tried to fool us and they did a good job fooling us," ABVV provincial president, Rohnny Champagne, told just-auto from Belgium. "We believed it was the Flemish government not willing to help us grant the plant to Punch, but it is obvious now it is Ford which is not willing to let anyone step into the their place.

"It is well done from their side. It is despicable. You don't treat people that way. They have to support their moral authority of using our guys at the plant for the last 50 years to give them a fighting chance after Ford.

"It is despicable about the hope of our guys."

Next week will see Ford exit the Genk site with the loss of 4,300 direct jobs, with perhaps many thousands more in the supply chain as the manufacturer increasingly shifts to Valencia.

Ford's departure from the factory near the German border also comes at a time of serious industrial unrest in Belgium and ahead of a massive general strike on Monday (15 December), but the automaker maintains there is no business plan for Genk.

"Ford and other stakeholders have engaged in discussions with a small number of interested parties on a viable long-term business plan for a limited part of the existing Ford Genk site," said a statement emailed to just-auto by the automaker.

"These discussions have taken place over much of 2014 and have focused on the parts stamping operation at Ford Genk.
"Despite the goodwill and serious intent of all those involved in these discussions, no viable plan has been presented that gives Ford the confidence a competitive business operating under normal market conditions and providing stable, longer term employment is achievable.

"Given this lack of progress - and the imminent cessation of production at Ford Genk - Ford has decided to terminate the discussions."
Ford added it was continuing to work with the Flanders government in a bid to secure the Genk site's redevelopment, including engaging a specialist consultant with experience in restructuring actions, such as at the ex-Philips site regeneration in Hasselt.

The company is also developing a training programme proposal focused on jobs in high demand and mainly aimed at assisting lower-skilled employees, who might find it more challenging than skilled employees to secure new employment.