`How am I going to find a job at my age?'

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYEES AT Vickers Defence Systems in Leeds, who learnt of their factory's impending closure during the morning, walked though the gates at lunchtime grim-faced and pessimistic about their chances of finding new work.

Many of them have spent all their working lives with the company, helping to develop it as a major European tank manufacturer. Ancillary worker Graham Groves, 53, who has been with the company for 18 years, said many of the workforce had reacted with anger and shock.

"How am I going to find another job at my age? We all thought they would close the Newcastle factory because it is smaller, but that's too close to Tony Blair's constituency," said Mr Groves.

Engineer Bill Dodsworth, 49, from Wetherby, who has three children, has worked in the gun unit at the factory for 21 years. "They just told us they are going to wind down the factory. Everyone was devastated. People thought it would be Newcastle and a lot of us believe there must be a political reason because Tony Blair would be in trouble if they did.

"I suppose we have just got to get on with it now. No one has told us anything about redundancy yet or given us any advice about finding new jobs. I suppose that will come later."

Painter David MacDonald, 42, from York, arrived at the plant just two months ago after giving up a reasonably paid job. "I came to Vickers because the pay and conditions were better. And now this. The first thing I did was telephone my wife and she just burst into tears.

"I was made redundant at the railway factory in York two years ago and we got through it then, and we will get through it now."

Earlier Sir Colin Chandler, chief executive of Vickers Defence Systems, said the company would help to find new jobs for their employees. "It was a difficult decision to make. We will work with the Government, the European Commission and the Leeds and Yorkshire Development Agencies to secure new manufacturing jobs for our employees."

The factory will be run down progressively as the order for the Challenger 2 tank is completed, and will close by the end of 1999 with the loss of 450 jobs. Some of the site and workforce at Leeds will be retained for a specialist service centre.