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Old 11-28-2006, 04:37 PM   #1
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Default VW Offers Building New Audi to Threatened Brussels Workers

VW Offers Building New Audi to Threatened Brussels Workers


GROOT BIJGAARDEN, Belgium (Reuters) - Germany's Volkswagen offered workers threatened with redundancy at its Brussels plant the possibility on Tuesday of building a new small Audi car from 2009.

"This project from Audi is completely new ... I am confident it will be achieved," Norbert Steingraeber, technical director of VW's Brussels plant, told reporters after a meeting with unions on the outskirts of Brussels.

Europe's biggest carmaker caused outrage in Belgium last week when it announced it planned to stop making its best-selling Golf in the Brussels plant and reduce the factory's staff of 4,900 to 1,500.

Steingraeber said the Audi production of 100,000 units per year could reduce the number of job losses at the plant.

"We are looking at 1,500 plus X, but we do not know today how big X is," he said, adding that the company still needed to establish that it was economically viable to make the car in Belgium.

The mass layoff plans have prompted workers in Brussels to strike for the past 10 days. Union officials said action would continue until the future of the plant was made clear, notably the 2007-2008 period until Audi production would begin.

Workers fear the Brussels plant cannot survive if it makes only the Polo. The factory produces 194,000 Golfs and 10,000 Polos a year.

Unions hope to draw 50,000 people to a demonstration in the center of the Belgian capital on Saturday.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Audi head Martin Winterkorn will discuss the project on Friday, union officials told reporters after the meeting. Winterkorn will become head of Volkswagen in January.

Verhofstadt last week criticized Volkswagen's plans for job cuts, saying the move was based on "national interest." The Golf production is to be moved to Germany. He said he doubted the company would reverse its decision.

Manufacturing jobs are scare in Brussels, where unemployment is running at over 20 percent. Volkswagen is one of the largest private sector employers in the city.
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