Unite’s manufacturing members sent a loud and clear message today (September 9) that the government must step in and extend the furlough scheme or else risk a tsunami of job losses.
Dozens of workers from the UK’s leading firms in aerospace, car manufacturing and other industries, including BAE, Rolls-Royce, Ford and GKN, among others, gathered outside Parliament today as part of Unite’s new SOS for Jobs campaign.
They were met by more than 50 Labour MPs, including shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, Angela Rayner, Chris Matheson, and Andy McDonald among others, who threw their support behind these beleaguered workers working in key industries that face imminent collapse if the government fails to step in.
Today’s rally comes just weeks ahead of the slated closure of the furlough scheme, scheduled to end abruptly at the end of October. While other countries such as France, Germany and Spain have all agreed to extend their own wage subsidy programmes for several months and even in some cases years longer, the UK government has repeatedly said it will plug the plug and end its support on November 1.
“It’s a political choice”
Speaking at the rally, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds (pictured above, centre) lambasted the government, noting, “It’s a political choice to withdraw support for our jobs and industries at this stage. Other countries have not withdrawn support, across their economies.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner (pictured below) also addressed the rally, saying, “This crisis is not the fault of working class people.
“It is time for government to get up and stand up for UK workers,” he added. “It’s time to stop the sound bites and start putting in place the measures that will give confidence to the nation’s workers and employers.”
One of Unite’s key demands of the government is that it hammer out a new short-time working scheme to serve as the successor of the present furlough scheme, so that job losses can be averted and as many people can continue to stay in work as possible until demand returns and the economy picks up.
The union is also calling for sector-specific support for key industries that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, such as aerospace, automotive, civil aviation and others.
Unite reiterated its calls with an ad van today, which toured SW1 taking the message straight to the public and to the prime minister (pictured below).
“We need help ASAP”
Unite rep Jamie Butterworth, who works for Senior Aerospace BWT in the North West, was among those attending today’s rally.
At his firm, Unite just this week secured a short-time working agreement – similar to what Unite is calling for in struggling companies across the board – that has saved dozens of jobs.
“It’s excellent,” Jamie said, commenting on the agreement. “We’ve mitigated 42 redundancies on the shop floor and everyone’s really pulled together. Hopefully the company will come out of the pandemic and we can all move forward.”
He noted that such an agreement would not have been possible with Unite’s support.
“If Unite wasn’t there, our company would have just carried on with the redundancies and would not have been held to account,” he said. “As union reps and members, we’ve worked together to make it a fair and equal process.”
But Jamie added that such agreements, although welcome, can only go so far in stopping job losses – the government needs to offer additional support.
“We need help ASAP,” he said. “The furlough scheme needs to continue. Our concern is that when the scheme comes to an end at the end of October, with no financial support, potentially there’s going to be mass redundancies which will carry on and on.”
“We feel abandoned”
Unite Rolls-Royce convenor Mark Porter, who also attended today’s rally, told UniteLIVE he came to “call on the government to do more to protect UK manufacturing jobs”.
He said that his work has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A lot of work has been relocated to a sister plant in Singapore, which puts the entire future viability of our site in jeopardy. We need government support now or our aerospace industry will not exist.”
Mark explained why an extension of the furlough scheme was so vital.
“It will help to retain skills ready for when demand inevitably increases,” he said. “Once we have a vaccine and things can begin to return to normal it is vital that manufacturing jobs are still here to support the increase in demand.
“We feel abandoned and betrayed by this government and with the double whammy of Brexit our industry has been hit hard,” he added. “Manufacturing is the UK’s crown jewels and it will be left devastated if the government sits back and does nothing.”
Unite convenor Kevin Coombes at Hamble Structures, also works in the aerospace industry and describes the widespread affect the current crisis will have across the UK.
“I’ve seen the devastation not just in my plant but on other plants in the sector and the affect it’s had on workers and their families,” he said. “But more than this, the actual areas where we are all based are small communities.
“The knock-on affect this is having on these communities – it’s just devastating. If furlough ends and these plants shut or half-shut, our communities will disappear. To me this is no different than what happened to the mining communities many decades ago.”
Unite Executive Council (EC) member Tommy Murphy (pictured below), who works for print firm Antalis, said that like Mark and Kevin, his industry too has also been massively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Small companies have been losing 50 to 100 jobs here and there but they all add up,” he explained. “No printing has been happening because of cancelled events. The sector has lost 70 per cent of orders so far and has suffered redundancies as a result.”
Tommy called on the government to extend the furlough scheme now.
“Many of these people have worked hard through the pandemic – these loyal workers must not be abandoned and the companies must be supported,” he said. “If the government does not extend the job retention scheme it will cost them greatly. It is far better to support people in work and make sure that companies have a future.”
‘Govt must act’
More than 50 Labour MPs have so far signed Unite’s pledge in support of UK workers, with more and more signatures coming in. Shadow secretary for energy and climate change Ed Miliband, who could not attend the rally but pledged his support, had a special message for Unite members – and a warning for government.
“I fully support Unite’s campaign around manufacturing,” he said.
“This is a moment when the government should be matching its words on industrial policy with deeds to save jobs, communities and livelihoods. But they are failing to do so across aerospace, automotive, steel and many other sectors. These are jobs we cannot afford to lose.
“We see action in Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe but this government is sitting on its hands when it comes to manufacturing with dire consequences,” Miliband added. “We will put maximum pressure on government ahead of the Budget and Spending review to fulfil their responsibilities to workers and communities.
“There are no more excuses. They must act.”
Kevin hailed the the Labour MPs who’ve pledged their support.
“We’re hopeful that they’ll go into Parliament and preach to the government what we’ve been trying to explain to them – it’s not one-off disaster in one town. It’s all over the UK ,” he said.
Kevin also praised Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, Unite national officer for aerospace Rhys McCarthy and others from the union for organising today’s event, saying they all did “a superb job”.
Tommy likewise praised the union.
“Unite has done a fantastic job of supporting its members throughout this pandemic,” he said. “The government must now not desert its workforce in their hour of need.”
“Proud of our members”
Unite national officer for aerospace Rhys McCarthy (pictured below) hailed the union’s reps for their showing at today’s event.
“I am very proud of our Aerospace and Shipbuilding reps that joined Unite’s manufacturing matters campaign launch of SOS4JOBS outside the Houses of Parliament today to demand the government does not abandon and turn its back on jobs, skills and the UK economy,” he said.
“It was great to see MPs join in and give their wholehearted support for a future for UK industry too.
“The Prime Minister and his government must avoid a tsunami of job losses that will occur with nationwide ending of the job retention scheme on October 31,” he added.
“Unite is calling for the UK government to bring in sector specific support including short time working like the German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian governments have put in place to support and protect its workers, industries and national economies.
“Enough of Boris Johnson’s empty soundbites and his increasingly incompetent government talking about not wanting to prop up zombie companies and zombie employees,” McCarthy continued. “Our members are real human beings who were working for successful companies with full order books before the pandemic. All we need from this government is to put place focused support in November that will allow companies to survive and recover through the pandemic.
“Today’s protest has clearly shown that our aerospace and manufacturing members will not lie down and watch this government trash the future of their jobs, their families and this country.”
You can find out more about the vital role that aerospace in particular plays in the UK economy in Unite’s report here.
By UniteLive team, pics by Mark Thomas