The UK’s auto industry workers are world-renowned for their craftsmanship — it’s thanks to them that the industry has largely flourished over the years.
That Nissan pledged last week to produce its new Qashqai model and the X-trail in the UK was the latest testament to the skills of this world-class workforce.
The move will mean 7,000 jobs are secured at the Sunderland plant and thousands more throughout the supply chain.
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said the announcement “was very welcome”.
“Hopefully it will secure the futures and continuing employment not just for Nissan workers at the OEM but also for many companies and workers in the Nissan supply chain,” he added.
The government has also said that it has given Nissan specific assurances following post-Brexit economic uncertainty that may have influenced Nissan’s decision to produce the two models in the UK.
It was revealed that business secretary Greg Clarke had written a letter to Nissan’s chief executive Carlos Ghosn before the car manufacturer’s latest announcement. When pressed, Clarke outlined – if only vaguely – the contents of the letter on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show this weekend.
Clarke said the letter contained four key points, including pledges to provide funding for training, to bring back parts of the supply chain to the UK from overseas, as well as committing to being at the leading edge of research and development.
Clarke said he had also assured Nissan that the government would create a climate that would keep the UK auto business competitive, hinting that it would try to secure tariff-free access to the single market in post-Brexit negotiations.
“So what I said is that our objective would be to ensure that we have continued access to the markets in Europe and vice versa without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments,” he said. “And that is how we will approach those negotiations.”
But the business secretary has refused to elaborate any further.
Labour and other groups broadly criticised the lack of transparency over the assurances given to Nissan, which some have called a possible “sweetheart deal”.
Clarke is set to give a statement over Nissan in the Commons this afternoon (October 31), when Labour will again urge the government to reveal further details about any arrangements or assurances.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that the government’s refusal to reveal the precise details of any deal between it and Nissan to date shows its lack of any strategic plan for industry post-Brexit.
“It is unforgivable that the Tories can clearly act to safeguard jobs in our manufacturing industries, as proven by their deal with Nissan, but are refusing to do so,” he said.
“What this deal reveals is that the government has no industrial strategy, as well as no plan for Brexit,” McDonnel added.
“As a result, they are making it up as they go along, which will only lead to further confusion and dismay for many businesses and workplaces.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called on the government to say exactly what was in the letter and to extend the same assurances offered to Nissan to not only the rest of the auto industry but to other industries as well.
“It’s not just this deal that we need to know about – it’s what happens to the other businesses,” he said on ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
“Businesses are talking to me all of the time and they are very worried about what happens to them,” Starmer added.
“They want to trade on the same terms and if there is a deal that’s good enough for Nissan they are saying, and it’s quite understandable, ‘well, we want broadly the same deal for us’.”
“At this stage details of any arrangements that may have been made or assurances have not been divulged by the government and Nissan.
“Unite has been campaigning to secure the future of manufacturing workers and UK manufacturing in any Brexit arrangements across the UK, including our successful automotive industry,” he added.
“Unite and our members in the manufacturing sector support continued tariff free access to the single market, with no triggering of Article 50 until we see the potential shape of future trade deals and what the risks are.
“It is understandable that many Unite members are asking if similar arrangements that may have been made with Nissan will be available to other manufacturers,” Burke went on to say.
“That doesn’t just apply to the automotive sector, where we have a timetable for decisions to be made on new models, but also in other important and sensitive manufacturing sectors, such as aerospace and defence, the science industries, engineering, metals and steel.
“Unite and manufacturing workers across the UK will be seeking similar assurances to cover the potential impact of Brexit that may have been made to Nissan.
“Our members at car and other manufacturing plants across the country rightly are looking for the same job security that appears to have been secured at Nissan though government intervention and investment guarantees,” he argued.
“We need similar arrangement across the manufacturing sector to protect workers and secure these crucial high skill, decently paid jobs.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey reiterated the call for the government to give workers across manufacturing similar assurances it may have given to Nissan.
He urged the Prime Minister and her ministers to use the planned Commons statement later this afternoon to declare to workers and industry that securing the maximum options for investment and trade is its number one priority.
“The confirmation that new models will be heading to Sunderland was fantastic and something this union worked tirelessly to help bring about,” he said.
“But this cannot be the last word on the matter. We have tens of thousands of highly skilled workers in the rest of the automotive sector, where more than a dozen different models are awaiting investment security, anxious to hear similar good news.
“The same goes for workers in aerospace, defence, engineering, energy, pharmaceuticals – in fact, right across the economy we have workers and communities desperate to learn that the government is on their side too.
“The government could give them that assurance now by declaring a determination to secure access to the markets and supply chains that underpin our world class manufacturers,” McCluskey added.
“Give us that vital assistance while trade unions fight hard for new models and the next generations of products to be made here, in the UK.
“Furthermore, the upcoming autumn statement must be used to set out how the promised industrial strategy will pave the way for a success post-Brexit.
“The chancellor has a serious opportunity to commit to invest in a strong domestic supply chain, skills development and the infrastructure that industry urgently needs to thrive out with the EU,” he noted. “He must not miss this crucial moment to send the right signal to investors, industry and workers across the country.
“The plea from shop floor to the boardroom is the same: give us the certainty that brings investment.
“The few Hard Brexit champions who seek a different path cannot be allowed to win the day. The national interest, investment, jobs and livelihoods absolutely must come before efforts to appease a political faction.”
Read Unite’s ‘Brexit on our Terms’ to find out more about the union’s post-Brexit strategy for manufacturing.