Two-month wait for anxious Vauxhall workers

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The Independent Online

Workers at car giant Vauxhall voiced fears for the future today as they were warned it could be two months before they know if their jobs are safe.

Thousands of employees returning to work at the firm's giant plant in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, after a week-long shutdown spoke today of their fears for the future of the motor giant in the UK.

Many staff arriving at the factory expressed concern despite Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's assurances from GM Europe that Vauxhall production would remain in the UK.

Vauxhall parent General Motors is set to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today in the largest move of its kind in US industrial history.

GM - the biggest car manufacturer in the world until last year - will file for bankruptcy in the US courts as it seeks to restructure its stricken operations.

Lord Mandelson assured workers again today that the Government has been given a commitment about production continuing in the UK by Canadian car parts maker Magna International, which has signed a memorandum of understanding to buy the Vauxhall and Opel brands.

But the minister said the prospective buyers will now take time to study Vauxhall's books in a process of due diligence which he said could take up to two months.

"I understand the fears and uncertainty of Vauxhall's workforce but I am afraid we have to be patient," he told Sky News.

Lord Mandelson said he will be holding more talks with Magna and pledged that the Government was prepared to underwrite any future restructuring.

The minister also took a swipe at the leadership of the Unite union, accusing officials of "misrepresenting" the Government's position and creating "needless fears" among the workers.

Unite's joint leader Tony Woodley repeated his veiled criticism of the Government's efforts today, saying he would feel more confident about the future of the two UK plants if ministers had been sitting at the negotiating table.

"We need Mr Mandelson to bat strongly to make sure that Luton and Ellesmere Port have a long-term future," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

Mr Woodley said he hoped the Business Secretary understood the sacrifices already made in the UK, including the loss of carmaking in Luton and shift cutbacks in Ellesmere Port.

At Ellesmere Port today, father-of-two Dave Longshaw, 43, who has worked for Vauxhall for more than 20 years, said: "Of course people are concerned.

"People think we are lucky because we have the production of the new Astra but this is bigger than one car.

"I think we are very lucky to have the new Astra and it is an ace in the hand but I think there could be job losses in the next couple of years.

"There has been uncertainty for four or five months and I think that will continue for another month."

A 50-year-old man, who asked not to be named, said: "It seems that the German government are looking after the German people and I don't feel enough is being done to safeguard our jobs in the UK.

"People will be worried. We are about to launch a new car but what do you do, do you launch it? I'm just concerned."

Meanwhile, thousands of Honda car workers returned to the production line today after a four-month shutdown.

The factory in Swindon, Wiltshire, resumed business this morning but the 3,400 workers and management staff returned for lower wages and will be producing far fewer cars this year.