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Opel labor warms to GM proposal on Belgian plant

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Opel labor warms to GM proposal on Belgian plant

March 23, 2010 06:01 CET

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Belgian union leaders have warmed to a plan by General Motors Co. to grant a stay of execution to its Opel plant in Antwerp and push through fewer job cuts than previously envisaged.

GM announced in January that Antwerp would close at the end of June, prompting unions to suspend negotiations over the automaker's proposal to secure 265 million euros ($358 million) in annual wage cuts over the next five years.

GM said on Monday it was now proposing that the Opel Antwerp plant be allowed to hunt for an investor until the end of September.

That investor would have to take over by the end of the year, union leaders said, adding GM was now also looking to cut 1,200 of the 2,600 Opel Antwerp workforce.

Rudi Kennes, Opel's European deputy labor leader, said the plans were a sign of progress, although the plant needed longer than six months to find an investor and the job cuts were more than the 1,000 maximum unions had been willing to accept.

"If Mr Reilly is moving in the right direction, we can find a common solution," Kennes said, referring to Opel Chief Executive Nick Reilly, who has angered labour leaders by trying to push through a plan that would reduce capacity by a fifth and eliminate 8,300 jobs in Europe.

"The only thing is it has to be a solution with, not against, the unions ... This can be used as a basis for negotiations," he continued.

Union leaders from Belgium, the Bochum plant in Germany, Poland and Austria had all agreed at a meeting on Monday that the plan was a positive step.

Earlier this month Belgian union leaders rejected a plan that would have rescued the Antwerp plant, but that could have pared the Opel Antwerp workforce to 400.

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