“The closure of the Ford plant in Genk hit Flanders like a bomb,” said Luc De Schepper, rector of the University of Hasselt. “Right after the announcement, we decided to measure the size of the crater the closure will cause.”
Flemish economists Ludo Peeters and Mark Vercauteren looked into the worst-case scenario: What will happen if Ford Genk closes without any intervention to alleviate the impact? “This gives policy makers an idea of the scale of the problems that lie ahead,” said Peeters.
Closing down Ford Genk will lead to unemployment not just for its work force (4,337 jobs) but also for its suppliers (2,816). Another 1,042 jobs will be lost as a result of the drop in purchasing power. In total, the closure of Ford Genk will leave more than 11,750 people without employment. Limburg province bears the brunt of this, with 8,200 jobs lost. According to Peeters’ calculations, unemployment in Limburg will go from 6.8% to 8.8% – a rise of almost 30%.
Peeters and Vercauteren predict a prosperity loss of €875.1 million in Flanders – 0.43% of the GNP. For Limburg, this will amount to €644.1 million, or 2.88% of the GNP.
The prospect of individual workers being laid off vary according to where they live. Those in Hasselt and western Limburg towns such as Lommel, Tessenderlo, Halen and Sint-Truiden have reasons for optimism as there are more jobs available (and less competition) in the region.
In eastern Limburg, prospects are grim. Towns such as Bilzen, Lanaken and Maasmechelen are full of Ford employees facing unemployment with little chance of finding new jobs close to home. “People who live along the Dutch and Walloon border may need to move further away in order to find employment,” Peeters concludes.
In related news, unions representing Ford Genk workers are considering taking legal action against the company’s management for failing to comply with a collective works agreement. The agreement allowed for revisions in the event of new market conditions but obliged the company to enter into talks with unions.
“A closure announcement is not a negotiation,” commented Rhonny Champagne of the socialist union ABVV. Ford Europe, meanwhile, denies breach of contract. The two sides met in Genk last week to begin talks over the conditions of the closure, as well as the blockade set up by workers to prevent cars and parts being sent from Genk to other Ford facilities in Europe.