Ford has confirmed its intention to close the Transit van plant in Southampton and its associated depot in Barton Park Eastleigh with the loss of nearly 800 jobs. Although Ford workers will pocket generous separation payments, many contract workers stand to receive little or nothing when the production of the popular medium sized van moves to Turkey.
Initial shock gave way to jubilation for some staff after they were told that when the factory closes on July 26 next year, they would be in line for payments of up to £100,000 provided production was not disrupted.
In contrast, disconsolate contract workers were told they would receive only basic redundancy terms.
The plant manager meet with staff at midday and gave them the rest of the day off on full pay –the local pub was soon busy with a group of Ford workers who had decided to start celebrating their bumper redundancy packages early by downing round after round of shots and pints while their grim-faced despondent contract colleagues – who are employed by companies like Penske and Hampton – stood around reflecting on an uncertain future.
Common to both groups was a sense of relief that Ford had finally confirmed the end of 50 years of manufacturing at the Swaythling plant and 100 years of car manufacture in the UK ending years of speculation.
Ford workers told Eastleigh News that a ‘continuity bonus’ equal to 26 weeks pay would be paid to them provided production was maintained but they would lose bonuses if they went off sick or took industrial action.
One worker aged 52 with 26 years service said that he expected to receive £105,000 with a deferred pension while another man in his 20’s, with six years service claimed he was in line for £45,000 – £15,000 of which was the continuity payment.
Many of the Ford workers said they were confident they would be able to find employment outside the plant although they acknowledged they would not be earning anywhere near as much money.
Meanwhile a dejected looking subcontractor employed by Penske agreed to talk to Eastleigh News on condition of anonymity and revealed he would only receive £1,800 for his six years of employment at the site.
The worker told Eastleigh News that contractor staff were prevented from attending the morning briefing with the plant manager having been told “This does not concern you” even though Ford had previously used the slogan ‘One Ford’ to promote a spirit co-operation between Ford and non Ford staff.
“Ford owe us” said the worker, a single man in his twenties.
“I don’t want a payoff, I just want a job. Even £50,000 wouldn’t last long but £1,800 isn’t much to show for six years”.
The contractor said Ford workers who did not wish to be made redundant could apply for retraining and relocation but this offer did not apply to contract workers like him, although he would jump at the chance if offered.
He also claimed that although contractors and Ford workers were members of the same Trade Union – the union only seemed to be interested in representing Ford workers noting also that media reports of the impending closure had concentrated solely on job losses from Ford’s own staff.
As Ford workers continued to nosily celebrate their lottery sized payouts in the bar he explained that many contractors only earned £8 an hour for working on the line or welding parts while Ford workers earned £15 an hour for the same job. Contractor cleaners earned little more than the minimum wage.
“I don’t blame them (Ford workers) for taking the money but I don’t expect they will support us if we took action. They have too much to lose”
“ We (contractors) have got nothing to lose”.
Meanwhile it seems likely that Eastleigh will be hit by the jobs fall out.
Around 300 workers at the plant are estimated to live in the Borough and there are about 80 people working at Ford’s Barton Park facility off Chickenhall Lane where FVS –a company that converts Transit vans for use by big fleet operators like BT and British Gas – is also based. FVS also employs workers at Campbell Rd.
An unknown number of locals work at the Magna factory on the airport industrial estate which manufactures seats for the Transit.
Another Eastleigh business that is likely to be impacted by plant closure is Hendy Ford who have their headquarters and main showroom on the M3 Trade park on Leigh Road.
A long established source of business for Hendys is Ford employees and their families who receive generous discounts off new Ford vehicles. If the plant closes, this trade will go into decline.
Unite trade union general secretary Len McCluskey told the BBC:
“Unite is going to fight these closures. This announcement has been handled disgracefully.
“Only a few months ago Ford was promising staff a new transit model for Southampton in 2014. The planned closures will really hurt the local economies and the supply chain will be badly hit – up to 10,000 jobs could be at risk.”
Andy Milligan, a local Conservative campaigner contacted Eastleigh News to say:
“This is a terrible blow for hundreds of workers in Eastleigh. I hope that Eastleigh Borough Council will do everything within their power, calling on all their contacts and networks, to support Ford workers.”