Peeters: “Ford broke its word”

The Flemish Prime Minister Kris Peeters (Christian democrat) has said that the Flemish Government is upset and shocked at the American car company Ford’s decision to close its factory at Genk in Limburg province. Mr Peeters was speaking on VRT television news after a meeting between the Flemish Government and the management of Ford Europe in Brussels at lunchtime on Wednesday.

Ford’s European bosses told the Flemish Government that the decision to close the Genk plant was only taken last Friday. Overcapacity and the fact that Genk has been working way below it maximum production potential for some time are blamed for the decision to axe the factory.

Mr. Peeters expressed his and his government’s sympathy with the thousands of people whose lives will be affected by the closure.

“This is a savage blow and a nightmare for the more than 4,300 workers at the plant and their families, as well as those that work for Ford’s suppliers. In total around 10,000 people are affected. This was a bolt from the blue.”

The Flemish Prime Minister promised to do all he can to help create work in Limburg. Two years ago the Flemish Government and Ford signed a “Contract for the Future” that should have ensured that that two new models would be built at Genk.

Mr Peeters describes Ford's decision to not respect the Contract for the future as the company “breaking its word”. The Flemish Government had promised 50 million euro as its part of the bargain.

The Flemish PM says that part of this sum that has not already been handed over to Ford will now be frozen. He also intends to seek legal advice to explore the possibility of forcing Ford to re-pay the public money that they have already received.

Ford’s possess entered Mr. Peeters office through the back door and made no comment to the press either before or after the meeting.

Measures to help those hit

Not surprisingly, the closure of Ford Genk was at the top of the agenda in the Flemish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

There Mr Peeters said that "Ford Genk was and is a highly efficient factory. This is not thanks to the management in Cologne or Detroit, but rather thanks to the tens of thousands of workers that have proved over the last 50 years why Flanders is renowned for its innovative craftsmanship.”

The Flemish Prime Minister then summed up all the efforts that the workers at Ford Genk had made in the past as well as the support that had been given to Ford Genk by the Flemish Government, Genk City Council the Flemish Labour and Vocational Training Agency (VDAB) and the Federal Government.

The Flemish Government will implement a number of measures aimed at helping those affected by the plant's closure.

• Within the framework of the so-called “Renault law” (that was drawn up when the French car company announced the closure of its plan in the Flemish Brabant town of Vilvoorde in the 1990’s), Ford’s management will have to enter into dialogue with the unions. They will have to try and seek alternatives to the complete closure of the plant.

• The Flemish government will start consultations immediately to assess the impact of the closure on the economy in Limburg. Around the table will be the Governor of Limburg, the members of the provincial cabinet, the Mayor of Genk and the management and the trades unions from the factory. The Federal Government will also be involved.

• Help and assistance will be a hand for those that are to lose their jobs. The Flemish Labour and Vocational Training Agency will consult management and unions at Ford and its suppliers to judge how it can best help.