Unite has condemned Ford for treating its workers “disgracefully” after news broke today (June 6) that the car firm would be closing its engine plant in Bridgend, with the potential loss of 1,700 jobs.
The union has called on Ford to urgently rethink its decision, or else face the threat of industrial action.
It is understood that the Bridgend site in south Wales, which has been in operation for 42 years, is set to close by September 2020, in 15 months’ time.
The news is another blow this year to the beleaguered British car industry – in February, Honda announced it would be shutting its plant in Swindon in 2021, with the loss of 3,500 jobs, while Nissan said it would cancel plans to make the new X-Trail model at its Sunderland plant.
The latest decision from Ford comes at a time of continued Brexit uncertainty, against a backdrop of declining demand in key international markets such as China. British carmakers have also had to contend with a drop in the demand for diesel cars.
But Unite has highlighted that Ford’s decision to shut its Bridgend plant makes little business sense, especially given that the UK is Ford’s biggest European market, and the firm holds first and second place in UK car sales.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner branded Ford’s decision today an “act of gross industrial sabotage if it doesn’t urgently reverse these closure plans”.
“Instead of betraying workers who have worked tirelessly to make Bridgend one of the most efficient engine plants in the world, Ford bosses should be rebalancing global engine production from Mexico and India to Bridgend,” he said. “There is a global yearly market of some 500,000 for the Dragon engine and we demand our fair share of that.”
Turner sent a message of solidarity to affected workers in a video today as he pledged that Unite would stand behind its members in whatever action they decide to take:
Turner highlighted Ford’s success in the UK despite not producing a single vehicle in here.
“If Ford wants to sell vehicles in this country it has a responsibility to maintain a strong manufacturing footprint here, not run off into the sunset to cheaper markets where sales are low but profits high,” he said.
Turner warned that Unite representatives across all Ford sites in the UK are gearing up to ballot for industrial action if this decision is not reversed.
“Ford bosses should be in no doubt,” he said. “Unite will not stand back and let Ford turn its back on its loyal UK workforce and allow our members’ livelihoods to be shredded because they are cheaper and easier to fire than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.”
‘Dark day for Wales’
Unite has highlighted too how the decision to close the engine plant will be a massive blow to the local Wales economy.
Unite regional secretary Peter Hughes called today’s news “a very dark day for Wales”.
“Our longstanding prediction that Ford had a long term plan to exit from Bridgend has finally today been exposed,” he said. “The stark reality of a plant closure and the devastation that it would bring is now staring us all directly in the face.”
Hughes noted that the closure would have “an enormous impact on the wider Welsh automotive supply chain leading to thousands of additional job losses outside of Ford”.
“For our members within Ford Bridgend and their families who rely on the high quality employment, today’s news could not get any worse,” he warned. “Our message to them today is that Unite is determined to use all of its strength and resources to try and steer Ford away from proceeding with this catastrophic decision. We will work in partnership with the Welsh government to urge Ford to explore every alternative investment strategy that could secure the future of the plant.”
‘We will resist’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey branded Ford’s decision “a grotesque act of economic betrayal” as he pledged that the union would use every avenue at its disposal to stop the closure.
“These workers and this community have stayed faithful to Ford, as have UK customers – this is still Ford’s largest European market – through thick and thin, but have been treated disgracefully in return by this company,” he said.
McCluskey highlighted how Ford has broken “promise after promise” it has made to the UK, including that it would build half a million engines at Bridgend, which subsequently fell to 250,000 and then again to just 80,000.
“The company has deliberately run down its UK operations so that now not a single Ford vehicle – car or van – is made in the UK,” he said. “Ford has treated its UK workers abysmally, and they could do so because the fact remains that it is cheaper, easier and quicker to sack our workers than those in our competitor countries.”
But the Unite general secretary warned that Ford “can forget about it if it thinks we will make it easy for Ford to walk away from this workforce”.
“We will resist this closure with all our might, and call upon the governments at the Welsh Assembly and Westminster to join us to save this plant, and to prevent yet another grave injury to UK manufacturing,” he said.