21 May 2009 Edition
Workers end Visteon sit-in with substantial package
AFTER seven weeks occupying their west Belfast factory, former Ford-Visteon workers marched out of the plant on Monday 18 May and thanked the community for their support during the protest. The 210 workers, who were made redundant by Visteon on 31 March, had voted to accept an improved deal negotiated with the company on 3 May but refused to vacate the plant until it was confirmed that Visteon had handed over the workers’ money to administrators KPMG.
On Monday, family members and supporters gathered outside the gates of the factory to cheer on the workers as they marched out. Unite union representative for the workers John Maguire said they felt “mixed emotions” about the outcome of the protest.
“At the end of the day the jobs are gone and the realisation of that is now kicking in,” he said.
“Today is about showing that we appreciate all the help we got from the trade union movement and others to get us a substantial payment settlement. Now we’re getting ready to fight for our pensions.”
Sinn Féin west Belfast MP Gerry Adams said that, while the jobs were not saved, “Ford and Visteon have been forced to negotiate a compensation package which was not on offer when they closed this plant”.
“In addition, by taking this stand for workers’ rights, hope has been given to other workers.”
On 31 March, Visteon sacked the 210 Belfast staff, plus 400 employees at its British plants, with just a few minutes’ notice. The company said it would not honour contractual redundancy and pension payments guaranteed to staff. The workers’ right to Ford terms and conditions, including the lifetime protection of their discretionary pension in payment increases, contained in the 2000 ‘Agreement governing the separation of the Ford Visteon organisation’, was refuted by Visteon.
Inspired by the Belfast workers, staff at the two British plants - in Enfield and Basildon - organised pickets and protests at their factory sites. The new redundancy package now covers all 610 workers sacked in March.
While the new package does not contain the full entitlements the workers should have received, it is definitely significant. Unite says it represents ten times more than what was originally being offered by the company.
The majority of workers have won a week’s pay for every year worked up to 41 years of age, one and a half week’s pay for every year worked over 41 years of age, and a further payment of 52 weeks’ pay. It also included compensation for holiday pay and 12 weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.
However, the workers will not receive their pensions from the company. In addition, 30 CCR workers (workers who had not previously been employed by Ford) received less than the others in the new redundancy package.
“We have recommended that all workers with Ford agreements make a contribution of £300 to the CCR workers,” Maguire said.
Workers’ spokesperson Gerry Campbell said:
“We believe we have achieved more than we or anyone else could have ever dreamed of. In that respect we are all extremely proud to have been involved in this dispute. The Visteon workers have been absolutely overwhelmed by the support they have received.
“After bringing Ford and Visteon back to the negotiating table through a moral and dignified protest we have achieved all that we can through this action.
“While we acknowledge the jobs are gone, we started this campaign with absolutely nothing. However, our actions - bolstered with the tremendous support of family, friends, local community and all politicians - have given people a cushion to allow them to move on with their lives.”
He added: “This campaign is far from over. The fight for the pensions will continue in earnest.”
The courage, determination and unity of the workers in staring down Visteon and parent company Ford has been noticed around the world. The victory, though partial, will provide hope to others facing redundancy that such determined collective action is the most effective way to defend workers’ rights.
Throughout the sit-in, the workers received enormous support from the people of west Belfast and beyond. Local Sinn Féin representatives, trade unionists and the broader community supported the sacked workers by bringing food, supplies and donations.
Speaking as the sit-in ended, Unite representative John Maguire said: “The first banner carried out of the factory says thank you to the local community for all their support.”
Hundreds of people joined a family fun day in solidarity with the men and women on 5 April. Hundreds more joined a march through west Belfast to the factory site on 8 April. On 17 April, up to 1,000 workers brought Belfast city centre to a standstill in an ICTU-organised lunchtime rally and march in solidarity with the thousands affected by mass redundancies, with a special emphasis on justice for the Ford-Visteon workers.
Workers from Waterford Crystal, who began a seven-week occupation of their factory to save jobs in January, donated €5,000 to the west Belfast workers.
The unwavering community support was vital not only in maintaining the morale of the protesting workers but in keeping up the public pressure on Ford, Visteon and administrators KPMG, who sought a High Court order to have the workers evicted from the site.
Throughout the campaign a growing body of evidence emerged of company plans to shut down the Belfast site since as early as 2001. Sinn Féin has called for a public investigation into the accounting and management practices of Visteon and auto-giant Ford, which Visteon was spun out of in 2000.
Speaking at the adjournment debate hosted by Sinn Féin in the Assembly on 5 May, Gerry Adams said that Sinn Féin believes that the closure of the Visteon plant in west Belfast has not been a reaction to unprecedented financial difficulties. “It has been the result, if not the objective, of strategic decision-making by the Ford motor company in conjunction with Visteon Corporation, including Visteon UK.
“Aspects of their behaviour amounts to fraud and corruption and sharp practice and it is important that we seek to ensure that the relevant government and statutory agencies, including the Pensions Regulator, carry out the necessary rigorous assessments and investigations into the conduct of these companies. Sinn Féin believes that Ford and Visteon have been engaged in corporate fraud. This scandal has been a decade in the making.
“In light of the unacceptable and contemptible behaviour by the management of these two companies, the workers rightly and courageously took over the plant and refused to leave until Ford and Visteon negotiated a satisfactory agreement on redundancy and pensions. They refused to be intimidated by threat of legal action and fought for their rights.
“I want to congratulate the workers on their determined and principled stand against injustice and to commend them for the example they have set in defence of workers’ rights.”
PART OF THE UNION: Unite the Union convenor John Maguire with Gerry Adams and Jennifer McCann