More than 200 jobs are under threat at aircraft frame manufacturer GKN, after the company announced yesterday (November 17) that it will close a plant in Yeovil, Somerset.
Unite slammed the announcement as “the latest chapter in a catalogue of betrayal” by GKN, adding that the closure was a critical reminder that the government needs a strong industrial strategy to face economic uncertainty over coming Brexit negotiations.
GKN said the plant, which makes Wildcat helicopter airframes for the Royal Navy, will close at the end of 2017 – putting 221 jobs at risk.
Consultations with Unite began last month after Leonardo, which assembles the Wildcat at the same Yeovil site and is the largest foreign investor in the UK’s defence sector, informed GKN that it would be taking airframe production in-house.
Leonardo is owned by Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica, which took over Westland – Britain’s sole remaining helicopter manufacturer – in 2004 after paying previous owner GKN £1bn.
In October GKN said its Yeovil operation was longer viable and began consultations on whether to downsize or close.
“Since then, we have explored all possible options to avoid closure. However, we have found no realistic chance of significant, long-term helicopter work in the foreseeable future, and we have been unable to find a solution that would make GKN Yeovil a sustainable business,” a GKN spokesman said.
Prior to yesterday’s announcement Unite blasted GKN for “supercilious behaviour” towards its Yeovil staff and said it was throwing “highly skilled manufacturing jobs on to the funeral pyre of corporate greed”.
Last year the union negotiated 30 redundancies at Yeovil GKN, after receiving pledges from the company that the cuts would make the business more viable in the future.
“This announcement is the latest chapter in the wholesale betrayal of these workers. As a union, we don’t believe that the business case for closure has been made and we have never received satisfactory answers from the top GKN management on that score,” said Unite regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer.
“In the weeks ahead, we will explore options to keep the plant going as a viable business. This is cruel news for the highly skilled and loyal workers at GKN Yeovil and their families. It is very bad for the Somerset economy in particular and for UK manufacturing more generally.”
Pettifer said the sites closure should be a wake up call for the government to protect Britain’s manufacturing base, with an industrial strategy similar to the one proposed by Labour earlier this month.
“It reinforces the urgent need for ministers to formulate a coherent and robust industrial strategy to safeguard UK manufacturing, especially as the complex negotiations on Brexit loom,” he said.
“Unite has repeatedly called for such a strategy and next week’s autumn statement by chancellor Philip Hammond is an excellent opportunity to put flesh-on-the-bones of this strategy.”
Pettifer added, “We will be giving our members maximum support at this difficult time and will be talking to GKN about redeployment of this skilled workforce within this multinational business and negotiating the best possible terms for those affected by redundancy.”