The Socialist 24 February 2009 |
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Car industry in crisis: Death of jobs by a thousand cuts
Car components firm GKN has announced the closure of two of its plants in the West Midlands. This will mean 323 direct job losses. Dave Griffiths spoke to Pete Bradley, a GKN worker and a member of the Amicus section of Unite, before the latest cuts announcement.
WHERE I work our production has reduced by 62%, that's two shifts lost out of the three-shift system. I usually work permanent nights on maintenance. Twice recently, news of redundancies and factory closures has appeared on the regional news. This has left me shocked and worried that I would be going in that night to very bad news.
One night, the managing director met the workforce and denied the reports and promised us that if we were to be closed or made redundant we would hear it from him first. What came next? Management on the TV news talking about redundancies!
In October all overtime was stopped, and on 10 November, we were called to a meeting and told that from that night we would be on short time or 'stand down time' as they called it.
We would have to stand down for seven hours each week. Some cells in the area that I work will not be running at all and 'surplus employees' will be going into another factory. We are divided into four factories, three manufacturing parts and one that puts them all together.
I'm still trying to understand what 'stand down' means. Roughly it means we will still be fully paid until we total 60 hours stand down, which we will 'owe' the company. Anything above that, our pay is cut.
We held a union meeting with the nightshift senior steward and discussed the implications of it - obviously we preferred short time to redundancies. The question was asked: "What if we are made redundant during that time?" The reply: "You will owe nothing!"
This is now denied by the union, they now say we will have to pay everything over the 60 hours. So we are funding our own redundancy!
My area decided it would be best if we had three Thursday nights in four off. But the senior steward went to other areas and said we had already voted for leaving early.
But who wants to leave work at 4.45am? Workers with families get home and fear waking their partner and family. Also, if you don't complete a shift you lose £30 shift pay, by leaving early we lose that each time.
The agreement between management and unions is that we will lose seven hours per week and any other stand down days will be added as and when required. So for the first 60 hours lost we will be paid, less the shift pay for those 60 hours. If we leave, volunteer for redundancy, we pay it back. Those that remain will still owe the company the 60 hours pay, but after 12 months it will be wiped off.
Every hour over the 60 hours lost will be banked and we will lose a maximum of £280 per month. Are you confused? We are, and we have to try and work out how much money we will be picking up each month.
On top of this we have arrived into work to be told that we are not needed for the rest of the week. We never know what hours we are going to work and how much money we are going to pick up.
The GKN board are also trying to change the pension agreements. The majority of the workforce have 25+ years service and are over 50 years of age. They want to go and leave jobs for the younger ones. Several of the younger ones have little service and are worried if they are made redundant, how much they have got to pay back. Will they owe the company money? There are many workers fed up and disillusioned.
To top all this we read about Lord Mandelson having talks with the bosses of the automotive industry, and the lavish meals.
The industry chiefs asked for £13 billion and he offered £1 billion in direct loans and £1.36 billion in other loans. Where will the money go? How much will I and my comrades that work in the industry get? When the industry picks up, how will the loans be paid back? I think the answer to that one will be - with job losses!
The capitalist Labour government are only interested in bailing out the capitalist banking system. The working class can suffer while the pathetic bosses give humble, meaningless apologies. My income has halved from last year and I am left owing the company money.