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Up to 3,000 workers could produce new Audi in Brussels after 2009

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Volkswagen AG said Friday that up to 3,000 workers would be able to produce the latest Audi model at its Belgian plant as of 2009, partly compensating for thousands of Belgian job cuts announced last week.

``Both sides agree that this plant has a future,'' said Volkswagen chairman Martin Winterkorn.

He said more than 100,000 of the A1 car could be produced at the plant, guaranteeing that 3,000 of the current labor force of 5,000 could stay.

He stressed part of the surviving work force might have to be employed as subcontractors.

Volkswagen management made the announcement following talks with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who was looking for strict guarantees that the Volkswagen plant and thousands of jobs would be able to survive.

``We need 100 per cent security before we can say everything is all right,'' Verhofstadt told reporters.

``Let us first turn this into reality and celebrate afterward. And not the other way around,'' he said.

Union reaction was guardedly optimistic.

``We are already glad we have a plan that we can work toward,'' said spokesman Guy Danneel.

Workers at the plant went on strike last week following that announcement that Volkswagen would halt production of its Golf model at the plant, resulting in the loss of around 3,500 jobs.

Volkswagen has not confirmed reports that it will shift more production of its Polo model to the Belgian plant.

The factory, which has been affected by labor action for two weeks, currently produces 204,000 vehicles per year, 190,000 of which are Golf models.

The announcement to cut Golf production came as a surprise to unions and the government and despite Friday's promises, some insecurity remained.

``This can be turned into reality, if certain issues are dealt with,'' said Verhofstadt.

Winterkorn was more confident: ``We took a major step forward,'' he said.

Both sides will still have to negotiate how to fill the time gap between losing Golf production and the introduction of the A1 model.

Winterkorn said investments for the new A1 line in Brussels could already start in 2008.

The government is making every possible effort to keep Belgium's carmaking sector intact.

A Ford factory in the eastern city of Genk shed 3,000 jobs three years ago and 3,100 jobs were lost in 1997 when Renault shut its plant just outside Brussels.

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Up to 3,000 workers could produce new Audi in Brussels after 2009
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