The 900 Vauxhall Ellesmere Port workers told yesterday they are being sacked in August have been abandoned by their trade union leaders and the Labour government.
Vauxhall chairman Jonathan Browning announced that General Motors in the UK is focusing on ‘the long-term competitiveness of our operations here in the UK’.
He said: ‘For Ellesmere Port, that means today we are announcing we are moving from a three-shift to a two-shift operation. That will entail approximately 900 job reductions.
‘We will be seeking to achieve those job reductions through voluntary agreements with the employees affected.’
He said that ‘Ellesmere Port is the highest cost plant across Europe’, and the sackings were ‘an important adjustment to competitiveness’.
Browning would not guarantee the new Astra model will be built on Merseyside. All he would say is GM plans ‘if at all possible’ to keep manufacturing in the UK.
He added that would only be possible ‘with the right collaboration with each of the stakeholders to have competitive production in the UK.’
The Vauxhall boss revealed: ‘We’ve had a dialogue with the trade unions and the DTI over a long period of time and we really appreciate the support we’ve been getting.’
Chancellor Brown – who travelled to the plant with Trade and Industry Secretary Darling – said the government will do its best to get the sacked workers other jobs in the area.
This was met with disbelief by workers, coming on the day that official figures showed unemployment is at its highest level since November 2002, with a jobless rate of 5.2 per cent over the last quarter.
Brown added that ‘we want to do everything we can as a government to put this company and the workforce into a position where they win the new model’ and secure £100m new investment for the plant.
Amicus trade union general secretary Derek Simpson said: ‘This is another devastating blow to the car industry and UK manufacturing in general, coming after the news about MG Rover, Jaguar and Peugeot.
‘Our priority now is to make sure that there are no compulsory redundancies made at the plant and we are committed to ensuring that the Astra replacement comes to Ellesmere Port to ensure a long term future for the people that are staying.’
On arriving at the plant yesterday morning, Transport and General Workers Union general secretary Tony Woodley said it was not the first time a shift had been cut, and that ‘our main concern’ is to secure the new Astra model.
Woodley stated later: ‘There is no doubt this cut to a productive and successful plant, GM’s most improved plant in Europe, is being made because GM can sack our people on the cheap.
‘This is a bad news day whatever words are used to try to soften the blow.’
He welcomed ‘the support of the Chancellor for the future of the plant’.
Commenting on the unemployment figures, the TGWU leader said that they ‘demonstrate that we are dealing with a crisis’.
He called for ‘a coherent, cohesive and credible industrial policy from the government to support our manufacturing’ against employers ‘who seek to exploit low cost labour in eastern Europe and elsewhere.’
All Trades Union Alliance National Secretary Dave Wiltshire said: ‘Brown’s words are completely empty, it’s pure cynicism.
‘The Labour government and trade union leaders are preparing to dump these workers with no fight whatsoever.
‘GM are proposing another Dutch auction of pitting one plant against another across Europe, with the trade union leaders bidding for who will accept the biggest pay cuts and most speed-up.
‘The immediate fight must be not a job should go, no cuts in pay and no speed-ups.
‘The redundancies have to be countered with immediate all-out strike action and occupation of threatened plants.
‘GM workers must demand that the attack by GM on all of its plants across Europe must be met by industrial action. Today it’s Ellesmere Port, but plants in Germany and Spain are facing a similar threat.
‘The call must go out to take on GM and the demand must be nationalise GM and place it under the control of its workers.’