Carmakers and logistics providers took precautions to limit the impact on automotive shipments of Monday’s general strike over austerity measures in Belgium that closed ports, the railway network and affected airports, as well as disrupting supply routes across the country.
It was the first nationwide strike to hit Belgium for almost two decades and coincided with a summit in Brussels aimed at finding a solution for the eurozone’s debt issues and a pact for stricter budget discipline across the EU.
Among the measures contested by strikers are plans by the Belgian government to raise the effective retirement age along with other measures designed to save €11.3 billion ($14.8 billion).
The strike had direct, albeit limited, impacts on automotive assembly plants and logistics operations in the country. Volvo, which has a plant in Ghent that produces 1,200 cars a day, said the action affected normal output but that it was running ahead of schedule at the plant and expected no negative impact for its customers.
Toyota Motor Europe, which has its headquarters in Brussels, a parts logistics centre in Diest, and a vehicle logistics centre at the port of Zeebrugge, said that had taken “all possible precaution measures to secure the continuity of [its] business, including both inbound and outbound logistics”.
A spokesman told Automotive Logistics that, working closely with its service providers and its sales network, it had advanced deliveries where possible. “[F]rom a supply chain point of view we expect the impact to be rather limited,” added the spokesman.
Ocean forwarder, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), which uses the port of Zeebrugge for vehicle loading and unloading, said operations were suspended for the whole day but that it did not see any major impacts or disruptions.
“As the port of Zeebrugge was blocked [Monday] from early morning on, we did not have any operation on the terminal,” said Werner Van Dessel, managing director WWL Belgium. “One vessel – M/V Platinum Ray – came in on Sunday night and had to wait in port until [Tuesday] morning to start operation.”
Van Dressel went on to say that the scenario was planned for and that all operations were now back to normal.
Zeebrugge is placed at the top of the European top 20 car ports with total units shipped in 2010 of more than 1.6m and a dedicated automotive area of 300 hectares.
Meanwhile, the port of Antwerp, which was also forced to suspend operations, said the action would cost it €1m ($1.3m) an hour in lost “added value”.
While their impacts appear to have been less dramatic, the strikes reflect continuing backlash against austerity measures taken across Europe to deal with sovereign debt issues. Last week, for example, Fiat’s output in Italy was crippled by truck driver strikes and demonstrations across the country (read more here).
Union bosses said they would decide after talks with the government over the next fortnight whether to stage another strike.