At an extraordinary meeting of the Works Council that took place in June, Caterpillar management Belgium announced its intention not to renew 200 fixed-term work contracts out of the 500 currently in place among shop-floor workers in the Gosselies facility. The elimination of certain breaks in several production workshops has also been considered. The company blames a drop in the volume of orders for the second part of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 as a result of the economic situation. At the same time, in June, the Board of Directors of Caterpillar approved a 13% increase in the quarterly dividend - the biggest percentage increase in the dividend since the financial crisis of 2008.
The unions representing the production workers concerned have rejected this plan in a united front, saying that there are other solutions and that jobs can be saved. They propose in particular that workers could take pre-retirement at the age of 56, and the use of short-time working for a longer period on a voluntary basis. This mechanism has been utilised in the past and helped prevent workers being laid off. Discussions concerning the modalities of such proposals are going on.
The holders of fixed-term work contracts, all union members, are above all young workers that the company will need in future state union representatives. It is therefore crucial to keep them in the plant. Management has agreed to the unions’ proposal that training hours be offered to workers during the period of economic slowdown.
The Gosselies facility employs some 4,000 workers, of whom about one quarter are non-manual, and it is one of the most important sites of Caterpillar Inc. worldwide.