Workers at the GKN Automotive factory in Birmingham will begin receiving ballot papers from today (August 16) in the dispute over the decision by parent company GKN Melrose to close the site next year.
The ballot for workers at the Chester Road factory, who are members of Unite will close on Tuesday, August 31 and if there is a yes vote strike action could begin in mid-September.
Industry experts believes that the factory, which produces drivelines for vehicles, is critical to the successful electrification of the UK’s automotive industry. Melrose, however, are intent on closing it to boost short term profits, with the work being transferred abroad and 500 jobs lost.
Unite is also demanding answers from the government about how much money and support GKN Melrose has received at the company’s research and development centre in Abingdon. Unite believes that the company has received millions of pounds in recent years.
With GKN Melrose now offshoring most of its manufacturing capability, while the UK taxpayer will have invested heavily in new technology, the majority of the financial benefit, which could run to billions, will be reaped abroad.
Unite believes that if GKN Melrose is not going to employ UK workers in the areas of manufacturing where it is developing technology, then not only should all UK government support be frozen, previous money received in grants should be repaid.
An alternative business plan developed by a broad coalition of GKN workers, the factory’s senior management, Unite officials and local politicians, including MP Jack Dromey, and which would have ensured the factory’s viability, was rejected out of hand by GKN Melrose in May.
GKN has also refused to meet with ministers, despite the government making it clear it will provide significant assistance to ensure the future of the Birmingham plant is secured.
Since 2018, GKN has been owned by venture capitalists Melrose. Melrose’s purchase of GKN was highly controversial. In response to fears that GKN was going to be asset stripped, it promised shareholders and investors that it would establish a ‘UK manufacturing powerhouse’.
Unite national officer Des Quinn said, “Members have had no option but to ballot for strike action as GKN Melrose has shown zero interest in seriously examining alternatives to closure.
“If strike action should occur it will swiftly cause delays and problems throughout the UK automotive sector, which is reliant on a just-in-time delivery system for car components,” he added.
“In 2018, when Melrose purchased GKN, it promised not to asset strip the company but to create a UK manufacturing powerhouse. That promise now appears entirely hollow.
“An urgent inquiry is needed into how much money GKN Melrose has received from the government for research and development,” Quinn continued. “If that money is not going to result in investment in manufacturing in the UK it should be paid back.
“It is morally reprehensible that UK taxpayers are being asked to fund GKN Melrose’s research when at the same time the company is intent on offshoring strategically vital work to Europe and forcing 500 workers onto the dole.”
By Barckley Sumner
Pic by Mark Thomas from GKN lobby event outside Parliament in July