Visteon workers win justice - and show fighting back works
1st May 2009
The dramatic fight for justice for 610 Visteon workers is on the brink of settlement with the tabling of a new and vastly improved offer by the company to the workers. The workers, members of Unite the union, were sacked last month with only minute's notice, in the process denied their rightful redundancy pay and their pensions hit.
Since then the workers, supported fully by Unite, have led a high profile fight-back for just compensation, including the right to be considered for jobs at Ford, the former employer of the vast majority of the workforce.
Until 2000, Visteon was part of Ford. The motor giant hived off this parts manufacture to a new company, at the same time assuring workers their contracts still stood, including their length of service, and pensions. Somehow Visteon did not appear to do well, but kept going. Then Ford started finding other suppliers. And on March 31, this year, Visteon workers were told the company was going into administration, and given just six minutes notice to leave - without their pay, let alone redundancy money or pension entitlements.
The Visteon workers in Belfast, Basildon, and Enfield, north London, occupied the plants. The Enfield workers ended their occupation after a court order, on union advice, but carried on picketing to oppose removal of equipment or assets. Visteon workers also picketed Ford motor showrooms, urging people not to buy Ford until the company honoured its responsibility to workers. They turned to the wider labour movement for support, and on May Day in London they took their place proudly in the march with the Ford Dagenham shop stewards banner right behind them. Visteon workers who spoke from the plinth were loudly cheered.
The same day came the news that negotiations had brought a result.
TGWU Unite secretary Tony Woodley said:
"This is a tremendous victory for these workers, and a demonstration to workers everywhere that when you fight for justice you can win. The deal now on the table is a massive improvement from where we started, which was 610 men and women thrown on the dole with only the expectation of basic state redundancy pay. By going beyond even what Ford workers themselves can expect in redundancy pay, Visteon has acknowledged the loyalty and commitment this workforce has shown towards both the company and to Ford before that.
"It can never replace their jobs, or alter the fact that 610 people have lost their jobs and their pensions have been hit, but it will provide these workers with compensation for the abysmal treatment they suffered and some security as they rebuild their working lives. This should send a message to employers everywhere - you will not get away with treating our members like cannon fodder."
Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, said: “This is a proud moment for these workers and their union. It shows that even in the bleakest of circumstances, if you stand up to defend what is right you will very often win.
"The support for these workers and their cause has been astonishing - the British people recognise when a wrong has been committed and they wanted it put right.
"Ultimately, Visteon and Ford accepted that they could not wash their hands of these workers and have gone a long way towards doing the decent thing by the workers and their families.
"We are confident that this dispute will now be settled in an orderly fashion and the workers will receive their compensation as quickly as possible."
The proposed settlement deal will see a considerable lift in the redundancy package offered to workers with long service and who previously worked for Ford. Some 510 out of the 610-strong workforce are former Ford employees. For those workers with shorter service, they can expect to receive ten times what they would have received in statutory redundancy pay. Ford has also agreed to give preferential treatment to former Visteon workers who may apply for work at Ford's UK plants in the future.
The new offer will be put to the workers in the coming days with Unite's joint negotiating committee recommending to members that they accept the deal. Following any agreement of the deal by the workforce, the pickets will withdraw from the plants.
The Morning Star said the Visteon workers had won a "stunning victory".
."We've beaten Ford and we've beaten Visteon," declared Sharon Steele, one of the sacked workers at the Enfield plant, as a vote was being taken last night on accepting the offer. Former Belfast Visteon worker Gerry Campbell pointed out that "the workers had nothing five weeks ago and, if they hadn't fought, they would still have nothing, but this is a major win."
The Star also noted that Basildon Labour MP Angela Smith had asked for an inquiry into how Ford had used the parts company, which kept reporting a deficit, pretending it had nothing to do with Visteon even though the workers' ID cards bore the Ford logo.
Haringay Trades Union Council's Keith Flett observes that, rather than rely on the Labour government to do anything for them, workers had taken action and turned to fellow-trade unionists for support.
Without drawing too much from this one case, the Visteon workers have contributed to a revival in trade union confidence and awareness, which in turn will raise the need for political expression.