150 jobs lost as plant heads East

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More than 150 workers at a factory in the Midlands learned yesterday that they are to lose their jobs to Chinese workers earning a tenth of their wages. Employees at the British Polythene Industries plant in Telford, Shropshire, which makes polythene carrier bags for shops, earn around £250 a week compared with the £25 a week workers will earn at a new plant in Xinhui, Guandong province, management says.

The news reinforced union fears that thousands of United Kingdom jobs would be lost to Far East competitors whose typical employee was forced to work for "a bowl of rice".

Guandong, near Hong Kong, offers tax breaks and other incentives to foreign investors, but the regional authorities have been condemned by labour organisations for allowing Dickensian employment practices.

BPI has offered many of its non-unionised employees the legal minimum severance payment of a week's pay for each year of service. It has embarked on a statutory 90-day consultation process, but expresses little hope of saving the six-year-old Telford factory.

Ian McCartney, a Labour employment spokesman, urged the company to reconsider the move and pointed out that the Telford workforce had contributed to the success of the business.

John Bunnell, managing director of the retail division of the group, said the closure was forced on management by a decision of "a major British retailing group" to buy its bags from abroad. The Telford plant supplies some of the main food chains.

Mr Bunnell said the company bitterly regretted the need to axe the plant, but the customer, who he refused to name, was able to buy anywhere in the world at the cheapest prices.

"It is a sign of the times that even the most modern polythene bag factories in the UK cannot compete," he said.

The future of a bigger sister plant in Derbyshire, which recycles used polythene, is expected to be secure.