Volkswagen Brussels strike likely to end in January

BRUSSELS -- A strike at German carmaker Volkswagen AG's Brussels plant is likely to end in the second week of January, almost two months after industrial action began over planned mass layoffs, unions said on Thursday.

Talks with management made progress overnight on the terms of a restructuring plan and agreement was possible on Thursday afternoon at a works council meeting, a spokeswoman for the union CSC metal said.

"Around the third or the fourth of January we will organize a referendum, and if it's agreed, work can resume from the eight," she said.

The Belgian government, which would have to approve a deal, warned unions and management on Wednesday it would not allow a proposed redundancy scheme that would have sent workers into retirement in their late 40s.

The government wants to increase the age at which workers retire.

Volkswagen's announcement of huge job cuts in mid-November caused consternation in Belgium. The national bank blamed the restructuring for a nine-point plunge in the consumer confidence indicator this month.

Around 15,000 workers and union members from across Europe marched through the Belgian capital on Dec. 2 in protest at Volkswagen's plans.

The reaction echoed the outrage caused by French carmaker Renault in 1997 when it decided to close the Vilvoorde plant in the suburbs of Brussels, cutting about 3,100 jobs.

Volkswagen previously said it would end manufacturing its top-selling Golf at the Brussels plant and reduce the workforce to 1,500 from over 5,000 now.

However, after negotiations with Belgian authorities, Europe's largest carmaker offered to produce over 100,000 Audi A1 cars at the factory from 2009, securing up to 3,000 jobs, although not all directly within the German company.

The Brussels factory has been making 194,000 Golfs and 10,000 Polos a year. VW workers had feared the plant would not survive if it made only the Polo.

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