In the week that the world's leaders gathered in Glasgow to agree action to combat the climate emergency, Unite, the UK’s leading union, slammed the planned closure of the GKN Birmingham car component plant as a failure to seize an opportunity to support UK manufacturing on the road to a carbon neutral economy.

Betrayal

The union said it was a ‘betrayal of a highly skilled workforce’.

The 500-plus workforce at GKN Birmingham are set to lose their jobs next year. The highly-skilled workforce now feels it has little option but to accept a redundancy scheme offered by GKN Melrose after the company refused to reconsider the union's plan to save the plant despite the government’s request for it to do so.

Gapping hole

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Melrose’s shameful decision to close the last UK plant operated by GKN automotive in Erdington betrays not only the 519 workers at the factory but leaves a gaping hole in the UK supply chain as Melrose seeks to increase profits by exporting manufacturing operations to Poland.

“Melrose is very happy to take UK taxpayers' money to support the research and development of new electric drive systems, but when it comes to supporting the workers and communities who give them that money with manufacturing work, disgracefully they run away.

“With the world’s leaders gathered at the COP26 climate summit, our government should be leading from the front. That means no more soundbites and rhetoric but an industrial plan and genuine support for UK based manufacturing to reduce our carbon footprint.  

In the meantime, Erdington and 519 skilled workers are open for business, looking for a manufacturer to take over the plant and build here in Britain the products that are urgently needed to green our economy, investing in jobs and communities as well as our planet."

Work offshored

The Chester Road factory currently produces drivelines for cars, with its primary customer being Jaguar Land Rover, which has plants at nearby Castle Bromwich and Solihull.

Unite, alongside the plant's management and local politicians, created a highly detailed business plan setting out how the Birmingham plant could and should be at the heart of the green industrial revolution. 

The site was in pole position to produce the new propulsion units required for electric cars but GKN Melrose dismissed this proposal out of hand. Instead, in a move that is entirely against the drive to a carbon neutral future, the GKN work is to be moved to Poland, a country heavily dependent on coal power to generate electricity.  Products now made in the UK will then have to be transported from there, a round trip of approaching 2,000 miles.

GKN has been owned by venture capitalists Melrose since 2018. At the time of the company’s purchase Unite warned that the company would be asset-stripped and UK jobs would be lost. 

GKN workers deserve better

Unite national officer Des Quinn said: For 10 months our members at GKN have fought hard to save this plant but it is apparent that GKN Melrose was never prepared to reconsider its original decision.

“Having failed to get Melrose to change its mind, the government must not fail the GKN workers again. The government must play a dynamic role in finding a company to take over Chester Road and save as many jobs as possible in the process because these are the skills our country needs if we're to step up to the demands of climate action."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

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Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.