Unite, which represents the workforce at De La Rue’s factory in Gateshead,is urging the company to reconsider the announcement today (June 17) that it will cease banknote production at the site.
The announcement puts 255 skilled workers in the north east at risk of redundancy. De La Rue has said it intends to transfer work to its other sites: Debden in Essex, and factories in Kenya, Malta and Sri Lanka.
The announcement of job losses is directly linked to De La Rue losing the contract to print the new “UK blue passports” in 2018. The government awarded the £490 million contract to the French/Dutch company Gemalto. The work has since been outsourced to Poland.
When De la Rue was producing UK passports, there were over 500 workers employed at the Gateshead site. Last year, one line was closed making 170 workers redundant and a further 80 workers will be made redundant this month as passport production finally ends.
Unite has argued that the UK should follow the lead of other countries and passport production should be a matter of national security and exempt from the standard tender process.
The Gateshead plant has long been regarded as a flagship site and the loyal workforce has frequently travelled abroad to provide expert training as the company expanded overseas.
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said, “Unite has feared this announcement since De La Rue was denied the UK passport contract in 2018.
“Unite believes that the printing of UK passports is a matter of national security and this contract should never have been allowed to go overseas.
“No other major European country would allow their passports to be printed abroad. Our government talks the talk of ‘taking back control’ and protecting UK interests but has consistently failed to walk the walk and move beyond soundbites to practical action supporting jobs and communities.
“Since the government decision to off-shore UK passport production, the long-term viability of the Gateshead site and the remaining skilled jobs it provides for the north east have been at risk.
“It cannot be acceptable that UK jobs are lost in part because production of the national currency moves overseas.
“It is now imperative that the government steps in to ensure that the site is preserved and that the contract to print passports is returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.”
Unite regional officer Tom Usher said, “Unite has been aware for a long time that unless De La Rue invested in Gateshead and brought other production opportunities to the site, our members’ jobs would be at risk.
“The company has chosen not to do this, but this is not the time to be announcing job cuts this decision must be paused and reconsidered,” he added.
“De La Rue’s dedicated workforce, which has worked throughout the pandemic when other sites were interrupted, deserve to be treated better than this.
“Unite is doing everything possible to support and represent our members throughout this highly stressful time.”
By Barckley Sumner