Tears and anger across the North as BAE Systems cuts 3,000 jobs

 

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The Independent Online

The meeting only lasted 20 minutes but it confirmed the worst fears of the 1,300 workers that had gathered in the structural test shed of BAE's advanced engineering plant at Brough, East Yorkshire. After 96 years, aerospace manufacture was to end on the site. Within minutes the first of the cars began streaming through the factory gate as they made their way home to an uncertain future.

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It took nearly an hour for them all to pass through – 899 men and women now facing redundancy after receiving the news that construction of the Hawk trainer was to be switched to another plant.

Some were tearful, others grim-faced and angry after what was described as the darkest day in British high-skill manufacturing in 40 years.

Across the Pennines it was a similar story with 843 jobs going at Warton near Preston and a further 565 at Samlesbury, Lancashire. BAE Systems finally confirmed the details that had leaked out on Saturday: a total of 3,000 jobs were to be cut in order to make the company more competitive in the face of falling defence spending around the world.

There are to be 78 redundancies at headquarters in Farnborough, 132 in Yeovil and dozens more at more than 20 sites across the UK and overseas.

But it was the manufacturing heartlands of the North-west and East Yorkshire – areas already severely hit by public sector cuts – that the redundancies were to be the most severe.

The final figure for jobs lost in BAE's 9,000-strong supply chain and associated service industries could ultimately reach 15,000 and cost the economy hundreds of millions of pounds.

Announcing the news, BAE Systems' chief executive Ian King, said: "Our customers are facing huge pressures on their defence budgets and affordability has become an increasing priority. Our business needs to rise to this challenge to maintain its competitiveness and ensure its long-term future."

The decision and the manner in which it was executed were widely condemned by unions and the Labour Party which called for an inquiry into the leaking of the news. In his leader's speech at the party conference, Ed Miliband said workers had been "sold down the river" while TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that the job losses were "yet another devastating body blow to our manufacturing base".

BAE blamed a scaling-back by its partner nations in the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet project – Germany, Italy and Spain – as each struggles to balance its national budget. Production was also slowed on the US-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet for which BAE produces the tailplane. The company is Britain's biggest manufacturer and currently employs 40,000 people in the UK, the majority in highly skilled jobs. But in July BAE reported a 12 per cent drop in pre-tax profits to £691m and said it expected those in the second half of the year to fall again.

At Brough workers had, until Saturday afternoon, believed that the latest redundancy round only completed in July had left them in good shape to continue. They said they had heard nothing from management and were forced to rely on reports in the media.

Workers had left work on Monday night still unaware that a meeting over the future was due to be held and were only informed by email that morning.

Staff union convener Ian Gent said workers were left "absolutely heartbroken and tearful" after being sent home following the meeting.

"For a company that purports to hold very high standards in its ethical behaviour, it needs to look at itself in the mirror and ask some serious questions about the way it treats its staff," he said. Unions and employers will now spend 90 days consulting over redundancy terms.

The human cost: 'Last year was bad – this won't be any better'

The full impact of yesterday's announcement will reverberate through the British economy for months to come, affecting companies both large and small. Unions refused to speculate on which of BAE Systems' 9,000 suppliers might be hit, but one obvious victim is Rolls-Royce, which produces engines for both the Hawk advanced jet trainer and the Typhoon – both of which are facing production cuts.

Earlier this year the company was celebrating the assembly of the 750th EJ200 engine at its plant in Bristol on behalf of the Eurojet consortium. Estimates vary on the multiplier effect that the defence industry has in the wider economy. In its latest research carried out by Oxford Economics, BAE said that for every 10 jobs directly in the sector a further 12 are created elsewhere in the supply chain. Unions believe that number is closer to 50.

Typical of the hidden costs of yesterday's news could be sandwich seller Julie, who runs the Sarni Bar outside the Warton plant. She said: "I am worried. Last time there were job losses it hit me hard. This is going to be just as bad I imagine. Regulars who come here every day just won't be coming back. I only have this one pitch. If I take 20 sandwiches home then that is a loss for me."

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