Bethan Sayed, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West
The announcement this week that the Ford plant in Bridgend will shut down has been devastating.
Devastating, not only because of the impact on Bridgend, the area and the wider Welsh economy, but because of the 1,700 highly-skilled and specialised workers that have now been told they’ve lost their jobs.
It is the biggest economic shock since the closure of the pits in the 1980s.
For some, the Ford plant in Bridgend might be ‘just another factory closure’ and 1,700 jobs might be a figure on a page, but for thousands and thousands of people in Bridgend and beyond, this means lives changed and futures thrown into uncertainty.
I stand in absolute solidarity with the workers and I’m furious at how years of loyal and good quality service has been undermined in a heartbeat. It truly takes a certain kind of crassness to make the announcement on the day 75th anniversary of D-Day – a day on which we remember one of the greatest acts of co-operation and solidarity between Wales and the US in our shared history.
There have been concerns for years that something wasn’t quite right, but the loyal staff have been kept in the dark.
Every plant has a five-year plan. Bridgend was supposed to have a five-year plan last year but this was delayed several times. Any attempts by Assembly Members to visit the factory were held up. Any representations by unions were frustrated by Ford managers who evaded valid questioning from staff about the future of the plant.
The plant in Bridgend has been working on new lines, such as the Dragon engine, but this has been run down over the years, with less staff being allocated to the production line as a consequence.
And the forty-year-old factory is dilapidated, and would really need to be rebuilt to bring any new lines in, I am told by many who work there. Perhaps the land around it could be developed? Where were the plans?
But did anyone expect the whole factory to shut down? Ford, in their second-quarter profit reports in April this year, announced a stronger than expected position, where they professed optimism about the year ahead, and something of a turnaround.
Rumours began circulating the night before the announcement. However, the workers were not officially told until late morning – and only after some members of the press had been briefed.
Since then, workers at the factory have told me that staff weren’t permitted to ask any questions in the meeting on Thursday morning, and the management would often avoid any direct questions.
Ford’s treatment of its Bridgend workers exposes the ‘family of Ford’ mantra as a sham if this plant closes. As we saw with the treatment of the former Visteon workers in Swansea, which was created as a spin-off company by Ford, they have put their Bridgend workforce through years of anxiety and uncertainty before closing this site as well.
Indeed, the workforce has been left hanging on for years without an ounce of clarity from the company on their future.
It remains to be seen exactly what support and payment plan the current workers will get. Many of them still feel tied to stay at the plant until September 2020 when it is set to close.
Bridgend Ford is still a hallmark of Welsh engineering and manufacturing. I know for a fact that its hard-working employees have the skills and the ability to take on new lines of production including the manufacturing of hybrid and electric cars.
I, along with my party, Plaid Cymru, are ready to fight this side-by-side with the workers and the trade unions in solidarity and offer real, practical solutions as we go forward. We need to support the workforce but we also need to ensure that this does not happen in the future.
We need to future-proof relations with manufacturing companies and ensure that Government is liaising with them all along the way.
And ultimately, we need to develop our own indigenous companies, with a strong focus on how they are rooted in our communities and supported in a sustainable way.
We cannot be at the mercy of multinational corporations, who put profit before people at all costs, in this way.
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