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Opel restructuring talks could last into 2013: union

HAMBURG (Reuters) - General Motors' loss-making unit Opel may need between two and three more months to reach a deal with German unions on a restructuring plan that could see thousands of job cuts and the closure of its Bochum factory in 2017, a union spokeswoman said.

Management of Ruesselsheim-based Opel and workers had agreed on Friday to extend a previous October 26 deadline for the negotiations which are being conducted on the basis that all four German plants will be protected from closure through 2016.

This intention could be abandoned at any time though, depending on the course of the negotiations, the union spokeswoman told Reuters on Sunday, without being more specific. There's now no firm deadline on the talks, she added.

Opel has a signed contract with IG Metall that protects the four plants from closure through the end of 2014. Management had said in June that the Bochum plant, which employs 3,300 workers, was "broadly expected to be closed" once that deal expired.

GM's European operations have lost a total of $16 billion over the past dozen years despite repeated rounds of job cuts.

With Europe's car market tumbling, labor representatives at Opel are under increasing pressure to accept deep cuts, even more so after rival Ford's decision this week to close two assembly plants in Europe, reducing capacity by 355,000 vehicles and its local workforce by 13 percent.

One of IG Metall's key bargaining chips in the talks with Opel management has been that it agreed in June to let Opel defer payment of an industrywide 4.3 percent wage increase to its German workers until October 31. That has allowed Opel to hold on to more cash as it tries to return to profitability.

The union spokeswoman said on Sunday that both sides had agreed on Friday that employees would receive all backdated wages for May through October with the November pay cheque.

After that, the 4.3 percent pay raise will be deferred indefinitely, she said, noting that workers at Opel's German plants were notified of the plans at weekend gatherings.

(Reporting By Jan Schwartz; writing by Andreas Cremer; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)

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