North-east fears further closures

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The Independent Online
DISTRAUGHT STAFF at Fujitsu's showpiece factory in County Durham yesterday became the latest victims of a wave of job losses hitting the North-east.

Workers at the plant spoke of their personal shock after the 670 redundancies were announced, and expressed their wider fears for the region. North- eastern England has suffered an estimated 4,000 job losses in two months and employees' leaders believe there could be more to come as a direct consequence of the strength of the pound.

While managers pointed to overcapacity in the micro-electronics industry, unions believe the Government's high interest rate policy has made it far worse.

The closure is yet another bitter irony for an area forced to abandon its old smoke-stack industries of coal, steel and shipbuilding with the consequent loss of tens of thousands of jobs. The future was said to lie in the kind of gleaming high tech Fujitsu plant which the Queen opened in 1991.

The Japanese plant, hailed as an industrial saviour, has attracted scores of young workers. But yesterday's closure announcement, that comes after the loss of 1,100 jobs at Siemens in North Tyneside last month, has fuelled fears about the future of more than 50 Far East firms based in the region.

Standing outside the factory, - recently voted best Fujitsu factory world-wide - Peter Middleton, a personnel worker, said: "It's a very sad and devastating piece of news for everybody. I just hope the market recovers, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are a lot of companies (locally) that support Siemens and Fujitsu, so there may be further job losses."

Mr Middleton, 49, is one of 670 staff at the Newton Aycliffe factory. He said: "I am out of work, the same as everyone else, with a mortgage and family. We are all contracted until 4 December, so I have got to look for another job." His son, 23, has also lost his job.

Many workers were too disappointed to speak. "I really just want to go home and have a word with my family," said one.

Many staff believed Fujitsu would go on flourishing, but others were pessimistic about the Japanese management's commitment after an pounds 816 million extension programme was recently put on hold.

"I have always had nagging suspicions," said Stewart Livingstone, 25, who has been working at Fujitsu for 21/2 years.

Fez Debona, 35, a technician and family man, originally from Maidstone in Kent, said: "Personally I thought Fujitsu was a strong contender for riding out the storm. Obviously not."

nShop stewards for 16,000 manufacturing workers in the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union in the North-east met yesterday, and urged their leadership to call for the Government to take responsibility for setting interest rates away from the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, and bring it back under political control.