Workers stage sit-in after shock redundancies

Angry workers were staging sit- ins at three car parts plants yesterday after suddenly being told that they had all lost their jobs.

Employees of Visteon UK, which announced yesterday it was closing its plants in Basildon, Enfield and Belfast, refused to leave the factories. Men who had worked for the company for decades, whose fathers and sons had been employed by it, were given a few minutes notice to clear their lockers and leave on Tuesday.

Overnight a fightback at the Belfast plant, in which hundreds of workers staged a sit in, spread to the Essex and North London plants, where yesterday some workers were refusing to leave the building while others were on the roofs or at the gates. "20 Years' Work. Zero Minutes' Notice", read a placard being brandished by one man outside Visteon's Basildon plant, where the furnaces had gone quiet 24 hours earlier.

Frank Jepson, Unite spokesman, described the moment he was forced to call everyone together for a meeting in which the redundancies were announced. He said: "I went to tell three of them. One of them would not move. He had been there for 32 years and just carried on working. He was sheet white and they had to drag him away. He just looked at me and said, 'It is not true, is it?'"

The struggling auto parts manufacturer, which nine years ago was part of Ford, announced it had gone into administration on Tuesday and was axing 600 jobs as it closed the three plants.

At Basildon, where 173 were employed, the men were called off the production line at 1pm and told by administrators KPMG that they had had no alternative but to close the company an hour earlier, saying it had been severely hit by the economic downturn.

"It was like Dragons' Den. The four administrators stood in front of us and told us but wouldn't answer questions. There were security guards everywhere. Then they gave us two leaflets and told us to go," said Graham Thomas, who started work at the plant as a 21-year-old. "I have worked here for 30 years and in five minutes I had lost my job. It was like a bereavement last night. My wife was crying. I was crying."

The Visteon group has a workforce of 33,500 in 27 countries. Yesterday workers at Enfield, where 227 were made redundant, were occupying the site. Sinn Fein MP Gerry Adams MP went to talk to the 210 who lost their livelihoods at Belfast.

Unite officials are due to meet with Ford today to try to find a solution to workers' grievances over redundancy packages. They are threatening to picket Ford showrooms if it is not resolved. Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley said: "Our manufacturing sector is in crisis. It needs serious strategic and financial help, and it needs it now."