Up to 300 Eastleigh workers at the Ford Transit plant are waiting to hear if they still have a future there as the companies multi-millionaire CEO Alan Mullaly flew into Britain today to discuss with union leaders the restructuring of Ford’s European manufacturing base which Sky News claim will result in the Swaythling plant shutting and the transfer of its work to Turkey – despite Ford being on course to make a $7 billion operating profit this year.
In fact Ford’s global performance is so strong that 67 year-old Mullay is the highest paid auto industry executive in the world, picking up a cool $34.5 million pay packet in March – a sum described by one US union leader as “morally wrong”.
Ford employs 500 fulltime workers in Southampton and about the same number again as contractors. Rumours began to circulate yesterday, that jobs could be hanging in the balance after Ford announced it intends to close its Belgium operations in Genk with the loss of 4,300 jobs by 2014 and transfer their work to a cheaper plant in Spain
Ford dismissed the Sky News story as speculation and a Union rep at the Ford plant told Eastleigh News that although the Union did not know what today’s meeting was specifically about, they still expected Ford to honour a 2009 commitment to keep the plant working.
That year, as the recession depressed demand, Ford halved its Swaythling workforce by eliminating an entire shift. Around 500 people, about 150 of whom lived in Eastleigh, were made jobless.
Production of the Transit at Southampton was reduced from around 60,000 a year in 2007 to 26,000 a year with the rest of the work going to a sister plant in Turkey where vans can be assembled more cheaply than in the UK and then, due to an EU fix, exported to Britain without any tariffs – even though Turkey is not even a member of the European Union.
The agreed plan was that Southampton would continue to construct the iconic short wheelbase van largely for the UK market until such time as Ford deemed economic circumstances suitable for the launch of a new model – the launch date of which has been repeatedly put back as the recession deepened.
Post launch, construction of Transit vans would cease at Southampton and it would instead build small numbers of the Chassis Cab variant.
In February 2009 Southampton Itchen MP John Denham reported:
“I have talked today with the President of Ford Europe, John Fleming, who has repeated his assurance that Ford remain committed to the production of chassis cabs for the new Ford Transit at Swaythling.”
Now if reports are correct, all production will move to Turkey next year and this agreement will have been broken.
While looking to shutter plants in Europe, Ford is also currently investing $1 billion to build a new plant in India.
Nick Chaffey of the Southampton branch of the National Shop Stewards Network urged workers to organise a city wide demonstration and to hold a national strike ballot in all of Ford’s UK plants.
Chaffey’s call for immediate strike action was echoed by Rob Williams – a former Ford Shop steward and chair of the NSSN who said:
“We give our full support to the fight to defend jobs and the future of the plant…Fords has made huge profits from the workforce in Southampton and must not be allowed to leave handing out P45s.”
The meeting is due to take place at the Ford UK HQ in Brentwood at 10 am.