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Our car workers are star workers

But govt anti-union attacks could stall future success
Tony Burke, Unite Assistant General Secretary, Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The news that automotive workers are the UKs most productive employees, each generating £100,000 a year in added value, will come as no surprise to Unite members working in the sector.


Productivity has risen by 35 per cent in five years according to a new report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).


New data from the SMMT shows output from UK auto makers in the first six months of the year rose to 793,642 cars – its best half-year performance since 2008, and 0.3 per cent higher than last year.


The report prompted Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, to say that “The sector is ahead of the game on productivity, with investment in efficient, hi-tech manufacturing processes and a highly skilled workforce resulting in huge gains over the past decade.”


Auto companies have invested large sums of money in UK plants and R&D over the past few years with Jaguar Land Rover spending £10bn over the past 10 years, but it is not just investment in the latest manufacturing technologies – such as robots – that mean three UK manufactured  cars are made every minute and four out of five cars built for export.


Skilled workforce

The skilled and dedicated workforce who helped bring the industry back from the brink deserve praise too!


As Professor David Bailey of Aston University, a leading expert on the UK automotive industry said recently, “The skill and productivity of UK car workers has played a key role in the sector’s revival – workers and unions – especially Unite have been instrumental with management in making the UK a competitive place for car firms to invest.”


The automotive manufacturing sector is one of the most highly unionised industries in the UK, so it is puzzling why the Government is hell bent on attacking unions and workers including those in this export driven, highly productive sector.


It also begs the question why the new secretary of state at business, innovation and skills, Sayid Javid has downgraded having an industrial strategy for UK manufacturing to a tepid ‘industrial approach’ when joint bodies such as the Automotive Council and the Automotive Industry Partnership have helped to grow the UK auto sector.


Unite is represented on both bodies – we are a voice for our members and we are listened to. Our union reps in the auto sector are seen as industrial partners not the ‘enemy within’ as the Conservative government is portraying trade unions through the proposed trade union Bill.


If you want to build a highly productive and skilled workforce you need to do it by building relationships; listening to the collective voice of workforce; training workers well, ensuring decent work and decent conditions; making sure that agency workers are treated decently with a pathway to full time employment, rather than using them as cannon fodder in industrial disputes – as is being proposed by the Conservatives.


Unite’s strategy for the automotive sector will soon going to press for publication later this year.


That strategy proposes a high skills, decent work agenda; bringing back the supply chain to the UK; the UK using its power of procurement for public bodies to purchase UK made vehicles; top quality training; leading in the research and development of electronic vehicles and connectivity and the industry continuing to work with Unite, our union reps and the workforce – all building on the success we see today.


A hands off approach to manufacturing along with union baiting and bashing workers belongs to the past.


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