For more than a century and a half, Derby’s Litchurch Lane Works’ world class workforce has produced cutting edge trains. The site first began producing rolling stock in 1876 for Midland Railway and over the decades has been been owned by LMS, British Railways, British Rail Engineering Limited, ABB and Adtranz.
It is currently owned by Canadian-firm Bombardier but a sale to France-based Alstom is now concluded and likely to receive regulatory approval within the next year and a half. Last week, UniteLive joined assistant general secretary Steve Turner on a visit to the plant to discuss the sale with the site’s union representatives.
“I think it could be a positive thing if the sale is done right,” said manufacturing apprentice trainer John Everton as he took UniteLive on a tour of the impressive multi-acre factory, where trains are designed, prototyped, built, modified and even test driven.
John has worked at the site for 50 years, been a union member for 49 and has seen the factory change hands a number of times over the decades.
While the business interests of huge and often multinational firms shift – the sale comes at a time when Bombardier is refocusing on its North American business-jet division – the specialist site and its highly skilled workforce remain an incredibly viable and highly prized asset.
Up to 24 trains a week can be built at the plant, which employs around 2,000 people, and it is the knowledge and experience of workers such as John who are key to producing its gold-standard stock.
Steve Turner made clear that Unite be will involved in every step of the sale to ensure that members jobs, pay, terms and conditions of employment are protected and that the site receives the investment necessary to both retain and improve its capabilities.
Turner said: “Unite has already received assurances from Bombardier that the sale of the company will not affect the Derby factory and its workers and the union will now seek an urgent meeting with Alstom to receive similar guarantees.
“Over the coming months Unite will be working with its sister unions in both the European Union and in North America to ensure that our members’ concerns about the sale are fully understood and that their terms and conditions are in no way diminished.”
Long term future with Alstom
Unite will also be lobbying the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to support the site’s long term future with Alstom as a key UK manufacturing facility. In addition, the union will be pushing for action on public procurement of rail stock to ensure greater support for UK manufacturers and local supply chain partners, including the Litchurch Lane site.
At Derby, as at manufacturing centres across the UK, the skills shortage and the need to retain and train skilled workers are pressing concerns. Unite will be focusing on addressing these issues, as well as a growing use of contract labour on site, as the plant moves forward. This is essential if workers like John are to pass their skills onto the next generation so that the Derby plant stays at the forefront of advances in train manufacturing, including fuel cell, battery and hydrogen technologies.
Unite national officer Harish Patel said, “Unite will be providing as much information as quickly as possible about Alstom’s plans, including long–term investment for the Derby factory. Once Unite fully understands Alstom’s plans, we will be ensuring that our members’ interests at the Derby factory and in its supply chain are fully protected.”