VW workers approve longer hours despite wildcat strikes


Workers at Volkswagen AG's Belgian plant on Tuesday approved a restructuring plan to work longer hours without extra pay in order to keep their jobs.

Submitted by Steven. on March 2, 2007

Previously the plan had met with wildcat strikes and demonstrations occured against closure (see picture, above).

Businessweek.com reported the acceptance of the deal "as a necessary move to keep the slimmed-down factory open and guarantee employment."

The article continued: in all, 76.1 percent of the workforce approved the plan, a move which should keep 2,200 jobs in Brussels as the assembly line switches from Volkswagen cars to Audi vehicles.

"Common sense has triumphed," said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who had feared that management would have closed the factory and moved the jobs to other parts of Europe.

Workers had gone on short wildcat strikes over the past weeks to protest the plans.

"There was no other way," socialist union spokesman Hedwin De Clercq told VRT network.

The German carmaker said earlier this month it would keep its only Belgian plant open if unions agreed to work a 38-hour week, instead of the current 35 hours. The company said this would keep the plant competitive and cut its wage bill by 20 percent.

"The approval of the workforce with the restructuring plan not only assures employment for 2,200 workers of Volkswagen-Audi, but of thousands of others at the numerous subcontractors," said Verhofstadt.

Workers had been angry over what they say is a lack of information or commitments by management on job security and have staged several strikes after Volkswagen announced last year it was shifting its Golf assembly to two German factories.

Last month, Verhofstadt had already appealed to workers to drop their wildcat strike and get back to work.

After talks with Verhofstadt, Volkswagen announced in December that its Brussels plant workers would be able to produce the latest Audi model as of 2009, partly compensating initial losses of some 3,500 jobs because of the removal of the Golf production line.

Verhofstadt said he wanted to meet the top management of the company as soon as possible to finalize the restructuring plans.

More information about the details of the wildcat and the demonstrations came to light on wsws.org:
The strike began when morning-shift workers blocked part of the assembly line. Some on the afternoon shift walked out in support. The following day, unions announced that 76.1 percent of the workers at the plant had voted in favour of the company/union accord. Under the plan, the factory is to be changed into one manufacturing Audi vehicles. Announcing the vote, Pascal Van Cauwenberg of the ACV union and Hedwin De Clercq of the ABVV said there is “a very clear majority in favour of the Audi plan.” Referring to the many workers who opposed the deal, they added, “The minority will have to accept this.”

The workforce occupied the factory from November 17 of last year until early January in an attempt to prevent redundancies and the plant’s possible closure. Large demonstrations were staged in the centre of Brussels. In December, unions at the plant agreed to thousands of job losses in order to slash costs in preparation for the company building the new Audi A1 model in Brussels.