‘WE WERE SHAFTED’ – say angry Stead McAlpin workers

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A banner expressed the sacked workers’ feeling
A banner expressed the sacked workers’ feeling

Over fifty Stead McAlpin sacked textile workers held a 24-hour picket and demonstration outside the factory in Cummersdale near Carlisle on Wednesday and are planning to lobby former owners John Lewis Partnership in London.

Workers are angry that they were ‘more or less sacked on the spot’ and given 20 minutes to leave the premises last Wednesday, April 1.

This came after John Lewis sold the company on to a company called Apex.

Chris Oates, formerly a Unite shop steward at the factory, told News Line, ‘We were working away when we were called into a meeting at 2pm on the first of April, April Fools Day.

He told how workers were split into two groups and one group of 60 were sacked by company administrators.

He added: ‘Myself and another young lady weren’t on any list. We were asked to go with the administrators to the office.

‘They had a discussion with each other and then came over to us and said we were gone.

‘They said my package of statutory redundancy claim forms would be in the post the next morning.

‘It didn’t arrive. So I went down to my local trade union office for some advice. I was told to go back down to the factory and not leave without the forms.

‘When I did, I saw the administrators, who said, again, that they were in the post.

‘I told them I had taken legal advice and was not leaving without them.

‘I then got the forms straightaway.’

Sacked worker and former Unite branch secretary at the site Alan Eggleston slammed John Lewis.

He said, ‘They shafted us once they sold us. They went back on what they said – that nothing was going to change for two years – we were promised we would keep our John Lewis wages and conditions, including the redundancy package.

‘But they didn’t keep their word. We’re 19 months down the line and we’ve got absolutely nothing.

‘We’re fearful for our homes and there’s no jobs out there.’

Labour MP for Carlisle, Eric Martlew joined the picket for a while yesterday morning.

He told News Line: ‘I realise these people feel totally betrayed by John Lewis.

‘Some of these people have worked three or four decades for John Lewis and would have been entitled to an up-to sixty thousand pound redundancy package.

‘Now, they will get next to nothing. I met with John Lewis senior management last week and I asked them two things.

‘One, to honour the redundancy deal that these people should get and, two, to give financial support o the liquidator to help sell the company as a going concern, to save the jobs that are still in the factory.’

A sacked worker, Mark McDermott, said: ‘We did a six-to-two shift (6am-2pm) and we were called to a meeting at two o’clock.

‘The administrators came in and we were told the company had gone bust.’

He added that those sacked, ‘were told to clear our lockers out and vacate the premises.

‘I feel very angry, very let down. There have been too many promises broken.’

Sacked worker Caroline McCleod added, ‘I worked in the studio as a card separator for 19 years.

‘We had promises and guarantees that never actually happened. We feel very angry and very upset.

‘We were given twenty minutes to go and that was without counselling or guidance.

‘Just a pack to apply for statutory redundancy. There was nothing from the company, even though we were guaranteed that for two years we would get the John Lewis redundancy package.

‘They should never have sold the factory on.’

Fellow worker Elaine Watson said, ‘It was such a family-based company in the past.

‘Everybody knew everybody. People had their aunts and uncles working there. I feel upset that we were being conned.

‘We believed they did want to make a go of it. There was plenty of work and we had customers booked in till 2010.’

Sacked worker David Crook said, ‘This factory was founded in 1835. It’s destroying history. It took us half-an-hour to find out these people were asset-strippers.

‘Why couldn’t John Lewis find that out? People’s lives have been played with and ripped just for somebody to profiteer.’

Sacked worker Barry Wilson said, ‘When you work for John Lewis, you get six months off with pay, when you’ve been there for 25 years.

‘I was two days into my six-month long leave and was made redundant. They didn’t even call us in to tell us.

‘I found out three days later. Some of the lads warned me by text but I did not get a letter from the company until three days later.

‘We had a holiday booked in Florida. I’m devastated. We have a disabled child, I don’t know what to tell him. He was expecting us to be off for six months.’

Sacked worker Stephen King declared, ‘We’ve been stitched up. To my mind it’s a legal way to do workers out of their redundancy package.

‘The John Lewis package was very lucrative. I lost £38,000 out of this, after 27 years’ service.

‘John Lewis sold the company off to asset-strippers, who they said would honour the John Lewis redundancy package but then they go into administration and then we lose everything.

‘We get nothing except the government’s statutory redundancy. People will lose their homes over this.

They have mortgages and young children.

‘If we had got the John Lewis package, at least it would have been a buffer while we look for another job.’

Meanwhile, Visteon car component workers who suffered similar treatment as the Stead McAlpin workers were continuing to occupy factories in Enfield, north London and Belfast.

The North East London Council of Action, formed to defend Chase Farm Hospital, mounted a two-hour picket at the Enfield plant.

‘We’re awaiting the outcome of the meeting in New York and if it’s not satisfactory, then we shouldn’t leave this place.

‘If it doesn’t go our way, then I think we should stay,’ Linda Bartle, a Unite union member at the occupied Enfield plant told News Line.

She was referring to a meeting in New York on Wednesday between Unite union officers and Visteon management.

They were meeting after Visteon announced last Tuesday, March 31 that it was closing its three factories in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield forthwith, without their enhanced Ford redundancy terms.

A High Court order has been put on the occupation at Enfield, demanding that the occupiers leave the factory.

Linda Bartle said: ‘The TUC should bring the country out. It’s our money that finances the TUC and all of the unions, so they should use it to give us support and you can always get more money anyway after it’s over.’

Another Visteon worker Robert Lombardy said: ‘We’ve had an unbelievable amount of support from the whole community, donations, banners, people showing they really want us to win.

‘Not only have we stood up for our rights – a contract is a contract and should be honoured – but we are fighting to defend jobs for everybody.

‘I’m sure it’s against the law what they’ve done. They can’t just sack people in six minutes.

‘Initially, there were over 100 of us occupying and the numbers have held up strongly. I’m going to stick it out.’

Another Visteon worker Debra Narey said at the occupation: ‘People have been inspired by seeing a group of workers fighting against the sack.

‘We are waiting to hear the outcome of the meeting in New York between the Visteon bosses and the union delegation, which includes Unite convenor Kevin Nolan, General Secretary and Derek Simpson.

‘We have to have satisfaction.’

Ian, said: ‘April 10 marks my 20 years of service and I’m not going to give it up lightly.

‘After the meeting in New York we will hear what is proposed and then we will discuss what our next step is.

‘We deserve satisfaction. What is going on here is going on all over the country, not just about us.

‘The more people who do what we are doing, the better for everyone, because then it will escalate and the government will have to stand up and take notice.’

Neil said: ‘There’s a lot of interest in this plant and tooling worth millions of pounds that supplies parts to Jaguar and Land Rover and Ford that they want to get their hands on.

‘There’s definitely machinery here and in Belfast and Basildon that they want to get their hands on.’

The Secretary of the North East London Council of Action, Bill Rogers, said: ‘We had a lively meeting of the Council of Action last night.

‘Having people at the meeting who have occupied here strengthens the whole struggle of the Council of Action in its fight to save Chase Farm Hospital against cuts and closure.’

Rogers continued: ‘I would say to the Visteon occupiers here and in Basildon and in Belfast: maintain the occupation and call on the trade union leadership to call strike action in defence of jobs and if the leadership won’t do that, then they should be forced to resign and replaced with a leadership that will fight to win.’

l Hundreds of workers, their families and supporters were cheered when they marched to the gates of the occupied Visteon plant in Belfast on Wednesday afternoon.

They carried placards saying: ‘Ford, the focus is on you’ and shouted ‘Ford sold us out!’

Politicians, trade unionists and supporters of the 210 sacked Visteon workers marched through teeming rain from Andersonstown, west Belfast, to rally at the nearby factory gates.

Unite Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly told the rally: ‘We are convinced that Ford cannot walk away by giving six minutes notice to the workers here in Belfast.’