A Unite delegation descended on Melrose’s annual general meeting (AGM) today (May 9) in London, where they lobbied shareholders and grilled board members over the company’s proposed plans to close the GKN Kings Norton factory, putting 200 jobs at risk.
They leafletted outside the AGM, urging shareholders to press the Melrose board to rethink the closure and to vote against the remuneration report, which if approved could see Melrose’s top bosses raking in millions.
Unite regional officer Peter Coulson (pictured below), who attended the demo outside the AGM, highlighted the commitments that Melrose gave before a Commons select committee only 12 months ago following its hostile takeover of GKN.
“Melrose pledged to invest in its UK sites and workforce yet here we are 12 months later and they’ve completely reneged on their commitment,” he said. “We’re here to ask shareholders to impress upon the board to retract the proposal, have meaningful discussions with Unite and be prepared to listen to our business plan.”
Coulson spoke of the reaction from the workforce after they learned that the Kings Norton site, where windscreens and windows for military and civilian aircraft are produced, would shut in 2021.
“The general feeling from our members has been one of shock,” he said. “They were informed 12 months ago that there would be no closure. The impact this will have on the local community will be devastating. This isn’t just about the loss of 200 jobs – it represents the loss of income for business in the surrounding area. This spreads too to second- and third-tier suppliers.”
Unite senior shop stewards Darren Smith and Peter Hunt, who UniteLive caught up with later at Unite’s central office after the AGM, both agreed.
“We were totally shocked when we heard the news,” Darren explained. “We’d had a good year last year and we had a really good order book for 2019. So we assumed it was going to be another good year – better than last. There was no inkling that there was any threat to the site. It was totally out of the blue.”
Peter pointed out that the company had even spent substantial amounts of money on training in the last year.
“We’ve no idea where this plan to shut the site has come from – especially given that I believe this year’s order book was the best one we’ve had in at least a decade.”
Both Peter and Darren highlighted a sense of betrayal among the workforce, many of whom believed Melrose when the firm said it would invest in GKN.
“Obviously we fought against the Melrose takeover but when they eventually took over and gave all sorts of assurances over investment, it gave workers a lot of confidence. We thought ‘Wow, this could be something new and fresh’,” Peter noted.
The Unite shop stewards emphasised how the local community and economy revolves around the Kings Norton site.
“The vast majority of workers live five or ten minutes from the site,” Darren explained. “Most people pop to the local petrol station on their way to or from work, buy their newspaper from the shop and so on. When you have nearly 200 people coming and going five days a week, there’s always passing trade in the local shops. If that factory closes that will all be gone.”
Peter added that the closure of the GKN site will leave many families in the area struggling to find decently paid work in an area where well-paid and highly skilled manufacturing jobs are scarce.
“For me personally, I’m a one-income family with a disabled wife. And I know I’m not the only one who will struggle if the site closes down. This isn’t just about our jobs; it’s about our families.”
Peter and Darren both urged Melrose to rethink their plans.
“This isn’t a case of ‘they’ve tried to improve the site but failed,’ Darren explained. “They haven’t even tried as far as we’re concerned.”
“Melrose is trying to blame GKN but Melrose is now the parent company and they are the ones who are in the end accountable,” Peter added. “There haven’t been any alternatives that have been looked at. We’re calling on them to give us a chance; to remember their promises and to reconsider.”
Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy agreed as he called on Melrose to “think again and work with us to re-examine the business case for the closure of King’s Norton. We believe the site can have a bright future and grow over the long-term.”
Coulson said that lobbying shareholders at today’s AGM was only the beginning in the fight to save the Kings Norton plant.
“The support we’ve received from local MP Richard Burden has been so far fantastic,” he told UniteLive. “We’ll be meeting with him further so he can help us press our case with the appropriate ministers. We’ll also be organising local rallies and holding Melrose’s feet to the fire.”
Peter said the workforce was determined in their fight.
“We aren’t going to walk away from this.”
- Pics: Mark Thomas