Ford workers put on four-day week

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The Independent Online
BELEAGUERED manufacturing industry was dealt a further blow yesterday with the announcement of cuts and job losses at two more firms.

Ford is cutting two shifts at its biggest UK factory in Dagenham, Essex to cope with falling exports while Northern Telecom, a Canadian-owned company, will shed 580 jobs in Devon and Berkshire.

Northern Telecom said the decision to lay off 530 at its Paignton plant and a further 50 in Maidenhead was because the telecommunications market had failed to grow at the rate expected. A plant at Paignton will close completely by next June, although another site in the town, which employs 1,400 staff, will not be affected.

A Torbay council leader said the job losses were a "bitter blow" to the region and would have a serious effect on the local economy.

The news, which follows a series of job cuts this month, mainly in manufacturing firms, came hours after Ford announced that Thursday night and Friday day shifts at the Essex factory would be cut for six weeks from 1 October. The 4,400 workers will still report for work but will have training sessions and perform other non-production duties. The two shifts produce about 1,225 vehicles a week, including Fiesta cars, Fiesta vans and Mazda cars.

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science and Finance union, which represents white-collar staff at Ford, said: "This is bad news and brings further evidence that manufacturing is in difficulty. A cut in interest rates and a task force for manufacturing are needed urgently."

A Ford spokesman confirmed that although the British market was still strong, and the Fiesta was selling well in Britain, the decision had been taken because of "deteriorating export markets". Dagenham exports about 45 per cent of its output to countries including Italy, France, Spain and Mexico.

The economic downturn is particularly disappointing for Ford, which as recently as July was running an extra Saturday shift at Dagenham to cope with an increase in orders.

The Tory trade and industry spokesman, John Redwood, said yesterday's developments were further evidence of the "crippling damage" that the Government's economic policies were doing to British manufacturing. "The Clinton and Blair way doesn't seem to be doing anything to save jobs or stop business failures. This Government shows no sense of urgency. It has no plan to safeguard British jobs."

A forecast yesterday from the Centre for Economics and Business Research said Britain was "within a hair's breadth of recession", echoing the view of Professor Douglas McWilliams, chief executive of the Centre for Economics and Business, who predicted at the weekend that unemployment could soar by 300,000 within two years.

Recent victims of the economic slowdown include the defence equipment manufacturer Vickers, which is to shed 1,100 jobs, William Baird, a Marks & Spencer supplier, which is cutting 450 jobs, Shell Oil, which is closing its London head office and moving to Aberdeen with the loss of 2,000 jobs, and Fujitsu, which is to close its pounds 500m microchip plant in the Prime Minister's Sedgefield constituency with the loss of 600 jobs.