Caterpillar announced this morning that it will close its Belgian headquarters at Gosselies, Charleroi, in April 2017, and make all 2,200 workers redundant.
The announcement was made at an extraordinary works council meeting called at 8:30 am on Friday 2 September – already called Black Friday by locals.
Workers at the plant, which makes construction equipment, reacted with shock and anger, with a large group picketing the gates. They have already made many sacrifices, including on salaries and working hours, to keep the plant open. In March 2014, 1,331 jobs were lost in another cost cutting exercise.
A number of IndustriALL Global Union affiliates are active in the Caterpillar network, and are currently meeting to determine a response: Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond ABVV-Metaal and Centrale Nationale des Employés-CNE, ACV-CSC METEA, Fédération des Métallurgistes FGTB Hainaut-Namur and SETCA-BBTK - Syndicat des Employés, Techniciens et Cadres de Belgique.
The company claims that the move is necessary due to a failure to meet targets and poor market conditions. However, the Gosselies plant remains profitable. Caterpillar made the decision to reduce headcount to boost profit, and plans to cut 10,000 jobs worldwide by 2018. The company has already cut 30,000 jobs since 2012.
Matthias Hartwich, IndustriALL director for mechanical engineering and materials industries, said:
“This is part of the ongoing deindustrialization of Belgium, and shows that Caterpillar cares only about return on investment, and not the sacrifices made by its loyal workforce.
“This is a profitable plant that will shut because the company has found a way to cut costs further. Throughout this process, there has been no proper consultation with the works council. This is why it is necessary to install genuine social dialogue.
“We will stand with our colleagues and give them all the support and solidarity they need at this difficult time”.