Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

‘I think the Visteon deal for workers stinks with inequality’

Charlie Maxwell, Kevin Ball and Fra Gillen at the Visteon plant in west Belfast

Former Visteon employees are refusing to halt their sit-in at the plant despite voting to accept a deal which would end the long-running dispute over its closure. Emily Moulton visited the west Belfast firm and found that while the deal is welcome for some, much bitterness remains over the situation

There is no sense of ‘victory’ at the picket line of the Visteon car manufacturing plant in west Belfast.

Instead the mood at the factory on Finaghy Road North — where sacked workers have staged a sit-in for the past five weeks — was sombre yesterday.

Many of those who accepted the revised deal — which includes enhanced redundancy payments as well as compensation in lieu of notice and holiday pay — were satisfied but not overjoyed at the situation.

Most would have preferred to have kept their jobs — the prospects of employment in the current climate are very slim — but that option was never on the negotiating table.

Instead union officials said they fought to secure the best deal they could for the 210 workers who are facing unemployment. Workers backed the deal on Sunday by 147 votes to 34.

Those employed by original owners Ford will get a minimum of 52 weeks while those who were employed by Visteon, the company Ford created nine years ago, will get just half.

This has angered those workers who feel the pay-off is not fair.

“As far as this deal is concerned, I think it stinks with inequality,” argued Fra Gillen, one of the contract workers who has been at the plant for the past seven years since it became Visteon.

“I am only entitled to 26 weeks pay. People in this country have been fighting for years for equality and this whole deal stinks with inequality. Personally, I feel betrayed by my national officials. Why did they not fight to get us parity? I feel like we are being treated like third class citizens under this deal.”

Charlie Maxwell, who travelled to England to take part in the negotiating process, is one of the Ford legacy workers who will receive the higher redundancy payout. He said that while he felt it was the best deal they were going to get, he too wanted parity for all the workers.

“Personally, I would have liked to have seen 52 weeks for the other guys as well,” he explained. “The thing for me is that there is a disparity and it sits very uncomfortably with me. Guys like Fra have sat at the gates every day since this started, I thought at the very least they deserved parity. The reality is they would not have got the same pay as the legacy workers because they are on lower pay, but they should have got the same recompense.”

Brian Burns, one of the trade union representatives, explained on average most of the Ford workers would receive around 18 months while the contract workers employed after Visteon was created would receive around 32 weeks.

“Ideally we would have liked to have kept our jobs. However, we were told from the outset that was not possible. This was the best deal we could have got,” he explained. “As far as the sit-in is concerned we will be staying here until the money goes into the bank. I just hope they do it quickly — we will not be moving until then.”

Jackie Colligan (63), who has been working at the plant for almost 42 years, said he was happy with the deal and the payment but would have preferred to have kept his job.

Two years from retirement, he said the plant was his life and was bitterly disappointed at the way the company handled the situation. Employees in Belfast got just six minutes’ notice.

“Throughout my whole life I have been through lots of different crises but this redundancy has been by far the hardest,” he said. “I have worked here for 41-and-a-half years and I felt hurt by what took place.”

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