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Business

Opel Employees Stage Work Stoppages

Production halted Friday at the Bochum factory of troubled German car maker Opel as workers laid down tools for the second day in a row in protest against cuts.

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Workers at Opel's Bochum plant face an uncertain future

The group's US parent, General Motors, plans to axe thousands of jobs and possibly even close a plant after 2006.

Workers in Bochum, who had already staged stoppages on Thursday afternoon and overnight, continued their protests again on Friday morning, the deputy head of the works council, Rainer Einenkel, said.

Streik bei Opel in Bochum

Opel employee Heinz Gabriel, front, along with other workers leave the plant of General Motors (GM) subsidiary Opel in Bochum.

They were protesting against GM's announcement that it would slash 12,000 jobs in Europe, with 10,000 jobs facing the chop in Germany alone.

By contrast, there were no work stoppages at Opel's other German factories in Rüsselsheim, near Frankfurt, in Kaiserslautern or in Eisenach.

A plea for "sensible signals"

The Bochum plant builds Opel's Astra and Zafira models. Around 4,000 of the 7,600-strong workforce there were set to lose their jobs, unions said.

Employee representative Einenkel refused to say how long the stoppages might last. He urged management to negotiate over the factory's future. When corresponding commitments had been made, workers would return to work "immediately," Einenkel said. He said he hoped that "sensible signals" would be sent from a meeting of Opel's supervisory board in Rüsselsheim on Friday.

"It's not going to be pleasant"

In an interview in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the head of GM Europe, Fritz Henderson, again refused to rule out possible plant closures in the medium term. "We won't close any factories between now and 2006. But after that, we can't guarantee anything," Henderson said. Opel's main sites in Rüsselsheim and Bochum "are the least competitive," he added.

GM has recently said it wants to build its mid-range Saab and Opel models at a single plant and that could mean that either the Rüsselsheim factory or the Saab plant in Trollhättan could eventually be shut down. "It doesn't mean that the factory that loses the race will automatically be shut down," Henderson said. "But it's not going to be pleasant," he added. Unions have called workers at all of GM Europe's factories in Europe to join in a day of protest next Tuesday.

Difficult decisions

Streik bei Opel in Bochum

Protests and placards at Opel's Bochum plant.

GM's plans for a bloody cull of its workforce in Europe has sparked fierce criticism in Germany. Even the government has slammed the way in which the car maker presented its restructuring plans. The US auto giant therefore launched a publicity campaign in the national daily press on Friday in an attempt to assuage the widespread anger and explain the necessity of the cuts.

"We, the management team of Opel and General Motors in Europe, yesterday made public some very difficult decisions about the re-positioning of our company," the full-page advert, signed by GM Europe chief Henderson and his number two Carl-Peter Forster, said.

"General Motors will continue to develop and build cars in Germany and in Europe in the future. We will continue to invest billions in high-quality products there," it said.

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