Women's job losses ignored by 'sexist' ministers, says union

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The leader of one of Britain's biggest unions has accused the Government of sexism over its failure to give the textile industry the same multi-million-pound aid it offers car workers.

In a fierce attack on Labour's manufacturing policies, John Edmonds, the general secretary of the GMB union, said Britain's garment-making industries had been neglected because they were dominated by women workers.

Between 75 and 90 per cent of textile jobs are done by women and job losses in the textile industry over the past year were estimated to have topped 40,000, with 25,000 more losses expected this year.

Government attention has focused on car workers. Tony Blair had met Ford bosses to discuss the future of the Dagenham plant, and Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, announced a £190m rescue package for men hit by huge job losses at Rover, Longbridge.

Mr Edmonds said that when it came to women workers in industry, the Government had offered no grant aid and had taken no action to cope with widespread redundancies.

The GMB has lobbied ministers over the threatened loss of 6,000 jobs caused by Marks & Spencer cutting use of British suppliers. Patricia Hewitt, a Trade and Industry minister, told Mr Edmonds "the department has no locus to intervene" in the commercial decision of a private company. The GMB leader has written to Mr Byers and David Blunkett, the Employment Secretary, to complain about "sexist" treatment.

Mr Edmonds said: "If the Government is truly committed to equality in the workplace, then it must show that same commitment to fighting for women's jobs as it does for the male counterparts. There's a lot of talk about making the workplace more flexible for mothers, but in many households in textile areas, the women are the main breadwinners."

Earlier this month, Marks & Spencer rejected a £35m compensation package for its suppliers William Baird, Coats Viyella and other British firms. Many job losses will be in areas of high unemployment.