The Trades Union Congress in Blackpool: Ford staff fear drift of work to Eastern Europe

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UNION leaders at Ford fear that plans to make seat covers in Poland with the loss of up to 600 jobs could lead to a general drift of component manufacture to Eastern Europe.

Ford confirmed that it was in discussions with the Polish government about component manufacture but said no firm decision had been made on the location of any sub-contracting operation.

Jimmy Airlie, chief Ford negotiator for the AEEU engineering union, said the switch of seat making jobs could be the 'tip of the iceberg'. A meeting of all Ford unions in Western Europe had rejected proposals for the transfer of activities to Eastern Europe and called for a meeting with Albert Caspers, European vice president, manufacturing, about the Polish plans. 'We have taken a clear decision to resist any outsourcing of seats or any other components,' Mr Airlie said.

Ford is constructing an electronics components factory in Hungary to make ignition coils and fuel pumps and is believed to be in discussion with the Romanian government about a further components plant.

General Motors, manufacturer of Vauxhall and Opel cars, and Volkswagen have proposals for engine and assembly plants in Eastern Europe while Fiat has entered agreements to build cars in the former Soviet Union. Western companies have been attracted to the former Eastern bloc not just because of the relatively low cost of labour but also the prospect of an expanding market.

Ford disclosed that it was to review its design and manufacture of seats earlier this year and it is believed the study is near to completion. The most likely option is for seats for the Escort/Orion range, made at Halewood on Merseyside, to be upgraded to the same type of traditional sewn cloth as is standard equipment on the larger Sierra and Granada models.

However, the unions believe Ford may also decide to change the type of seats on the smaller Fiesta model which would mean more job losses at Dagenham in east London, Cologne in Germany and Valencia in Spain.