GM axes 12,000 jobs in Europe

One in five GM jobs in Europe faced the chop in a brutal bid to drive the businesses back to profit after six years of losses.

GM Europe chief Fritz Henderson said that while there were no immediate plans to shut down any plants, as unions and politicians had initially feared, factory closures could not be ruled out altogether.

The job cuts, around 90 percent of which would be made next year, were part of GM’s plans to cut costs at its European activities, which have been entrenched in loss since 1999, by 500 million euros by 2006.

In addition to Opel in Germany, GM also owns Vauxhall in Britain and Saab in Sweden.

In Stockholm, Saab said that around 500 jobs were on the line at its 6,300-strong Trollhaetan plant in western Sweden.

No comment was forthcoming from Vauxhall. But the British car maker, which employs around 5,000 at Ellesmere Port, was widely expected to be spared the worst of the cuts.

GM Europe argued the drastic measures were necessary in face of the difficult situation in the European car sector and no indication that things were likely to improve any time soon.

The car maker did not specify exactly how many jobs would be cut at Opel or elsewhere, or where precisely the cuts would be made.

That would be decided in negotiations with unions and labour representatives that were scheduled to start straight away.

But media reports said 4,000 jobs were on the line at Opel’s main manufacturing site in Ruesselsheim, near Frankfurt, and another 4,000 at the factory in Bochum in the heavily industrialised Ruhr region.

Opel’s two other German factories in Kaiserslautern and Eisenach would not be affected.

Such was the crisis at Opel that Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement travelled to Bochum on Thursday to meet with the regional state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia Peer Steinbrueck and his economy minister Harald Schartau as well as employee representatives and unions.

Clement even cancelled a meeting with French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy at the last minute to go to Bochum.

Unions demanded that management issue guarantees not to close any plants and make any forced redundancies.

Furthermore, employees at Opel, Saab and Vauxhall would not allow themselves to be played off against each other, unions said, promising “a day of protest” next week to accompany the start of negotiations with management.

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