Ford to cut 1,700 jobs with Welsh plant closure

'Brexit not to blame,' says car-making giant.

    The Ford Bridgend Engine plant in South Wales is to close next year [Geoff Caddick/AFP]
    The Ford Bridgend Engine plant in South Wales is to close next year [Geoff Caddick/AFP]

    Workers have spoken of their devastation after car-making giant Ford Motor Company announced the closure of a plant in South Wales, at a cost of 1,700 jobs.

    The staff set to lose their jobs will be given "enhanced" redundancy, or severance pay, and assistance in finding new jobs, promised Ford's European president.

    But unions have attacked the decision, and workers, who said they had expected the engine-building factory to be shut, were surprised at how quickly the decision was reached.

    "It's devastating. Everyone's got mortgages to pay and families to support," 48-year-old Len Jones, who has worked at the plant for seven and a half years, told the Press Association.

    "I expected a little more time to get things sorted. When we found out, everyone was just silent. They gave us letters and we just all went home."

    Another worker, who only gave the Press Association his first name, Stephen, said: "When they came out with the statement, you just don't take it in do you. But, such is life.

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    "The writing has been on the wall for a long time. We knew when the Sigma engine finished there was no replacement. We knew when the AJ engine finished there was no replacement. The predicted volumes for [the] new Dragon engine were 250,000, then 125,000, then the last thing we had was for 70,000."

    Second-time job losses

    Some of the soon-to-be-laid-off workers had already been redeployed from Southampton, where the company's Ford Transit plant shut in 2013.

    Claire Shortland, 47, a supervisor who had worked for the company for 27 years, said: "I was at Southampton when they shut there, and it's a bit of a 'p*ss off' that we found out from the press.

    "We expected it, but not as soon as this. I just don't know what I'm going to do now. I sort of packed everything up and came here from Southampton when we stopped making Transit - and now this."

    Adam Price, leader of the political party Plaid Cymru, called it an act of "industrial vandalism".

    "Bridgend's Ford plant is a hallmark of our Welsh industrial landscape with a skilled and loyal workforce," he tweeted on Thursday. "Closing the plant is an act of industrial vandalism and will have a devastating impact on Bridgend, [the] wider Welsh economy and 1,700 workers and their families."

    Ford blamed the end of a contract to supply engines to Jaguar Land Rover and a fall in sales of petrol engines amid huge changes in the car industry. The company stressed that the decision was not related to Brexit.

    The 40-year-old plant in South Wales will close in September 2020, affecting jobs in companies supplying goods and services, in another huge blow to the motor industry in the United Kingdom following news that Honda is to shut its factory in Swindon, while other firms are also cutting back.

    Unions pledged to resist the closure "with all their might".

    Workers 'great'

    Ford's European president, Stuart Rowley, told the Press Association that Bridgend workers were "great" and had "done nothing wrong".

    "Creating a strong and sustainable Ford business in Europe requires us to make some difficult decisions, including the need to scale our global engine manufacturing footprint to best serve our future vehicle portfolio.

    "We are committed to the UK, however, changing customer demand and cost disadvantages - plus an absence of additional engine models for Bridgend going forward - make the plant economically unsustainable in the years ahead."

    A statement from the company said Ford would offer "redeployment opportunities to other Ford sites in the UK and assisting with domestic relocation where possible, or supporting them to find new employers or pursue new opportunities, such as creating their own businesses or training for new careers".

    Ford's decision to shut its Bridgend engine plant in 2020 is a grotesque act of economic betrayal

    Len McCluskey, union leader

    Workers were given the news at briefings inside the plant this morning and told to go home and not return until Monday.

    "We're hugely shocked by today's announcement, it's a real hammer blow for the Welsh economy and the community in Bridgend," said Jeff Beck, regional organiser of the union GMB (formerly known as General Municipal Boilermakers).

    "Regardless of today's announcement, GMB will continue to work with Ford, our sister unions and the Welsh government to find a solution to the issue and to mitigate the effects of this devastating news."

    Unite the Union general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Ford's decision to shut its Bridgend engine plant in 2020 is a grotesque act of economic betrayal.

    "These workers and this community have stayed faithful to Ford, as have UK customers - this is still Ford's largest European market - through thick and thin, but have been treated disgracefully in return by this company.

    "Ford broke promise after promise to the UK. First, it was that it would build 500,000 engines at Bridgend. That fell to a quarter of a million, then fell again and again.

    "The company has deliberately run down its UK operations so that now not a single Ford vehicle - car or van - is made in the UK."

    The Bridgend plant opened in 1980, covers an area of 24 hectares, and is one of Wales' major employers.

    The news comes as Honda prepares to shut its Swindon plant in 2021, while fellow Japanese carmaker Nissan reversed a decision to build its new X-Trail vehicle at its Sunderland plant.

    Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India's Tata Motors, is also cutting jobs.

    Ford also has another engine plant in Dagenham, Essex, and a plant making transmissions in Halewood, Liverpool.

    Ford announced last month that it was cutting 7,000 white-collar jobs worldwide, with up to 550 expected in the UK.

    A government spokesman said: "Ford's announcement today follows earlier announcements that the company has made about its ongoing global restructuring plans, nevertheless the news of their intention and consultation on closing the Bridgend plant will be very worrying for the dedicated workforce."

    SOURCE: News agencies