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Visteon workers: We’ll not give up until Ford honours its promises

Just over a week has passed since the shock closure of Belfast motor components firm Visteon.

The plant in Finaghy was put into receivership last Tuesday by owners Visteon UK and effectively over 200 former workers were dumped into stunned unemployment.

From when the announcement was made the employees have been occupying the factory in protest at the paltry redundancy deal offer by the receivers and are lobbying Ford to honour their commitment to their one-time proud workers and pay the recognised Ford package.

Everything still seems very surreal for myself and fellow former employees. The occupation of the plant continues to provide a focus for us. People come and go all hours of the day and night.

Maintaining a presence is one of the goals of union officials concerned and after a week of what could be a long, hard struggle, morale and spirits are as high as ever.

The gate is manned around the clock, the dustbin fires are stoked, food is cooked, papers are read, cards are played, witty banter is exchanged.

Everything is getting done. There are no managers, no supervisors, no bosses — only comrades in a fight together for what we see as rightful and honourable actions in either reopening the plant or proper redundancy deals.

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Support continues to flow in from all around the area. This week a man approached the gate and spoke to one of our gate protesters and handed him an envelope containing a sizeable cash sum. We send our heartfelt thanks to those who have helped in any way.

Personally the news of closure was broken to me in a bizarre conversation with my wife Janet. Having worked a night shift last Monday night, oblivious to the hammer blow that was to follow, I headed off to bed around lunchtime all set to go back into work as normal on Tuesday.

At around 6pm my wife woke me to tell me she had just seen it on the news and Visteon was closed and I had no job. How cruel and heartless is that for any employee of nearly 13 years to learn he no longer had a job?

Still coming and going to the plant on a daily basis had cocooned us a little from the reality that we are unemployed but this week I got my first real dose of reality on a visit to the dole.

I left school at 17, took a labouring job and then went to serve my time as an electrician with Lisburn Council. I left there in 1996 to join Ford as an operator and what I thought was a job for the remainder of my working life.

I started as an operator, then moved into the quality department as an audit inspector a few years ago.

This was a great factory to work in, people were from all walks of life and the companionship and sense of belonging was plain to see. I have made lifelong friends in here and would have hoped to have them all as work colleagues for a lot longer.

Sitting down in a jobseekers interview for the first time in nearly 30 years is a very sobering experience and when the clerk informs you that you are entitled to basic allowances the bleak truth hits you.

I am 44 years of age and thought I was settled in a good well paid job. Now I’m out on the street with no clue what direction to take. I have a wife, Janet, and a daughter, Meghan (12), at home. I am the breadwinner — it is my job to provide for them and that has been taken away from me.

We will continue to occupy the plant in the hope that Ford will do the honourable thing, but it has been a turbulent week and still a lot of soul searching has to be done as to what the future holds for myself and all the others here.

Symbolic walk to doomed site

Workers at the Visteon plant in west Belfast have continued their campaign against job losses with a symbolic walk to their former workplace, still occupied by workers one week after administrators arrived.

“Ford, the ‘Focus’ is on you,” urged one punning banner at the rally over 210 lost jobs at the car supplies plant — previously owned by Ford — on Finaghy Road North.

Around 150 family members, former colleagues, politicians and trade unionists, and three ‘anarcho-syndicalists' with a giant red and black flag, came out in the pouring rain to support the mostly-male workforce yesterday lunchtime.

Visteon UK was formed as a spin-off from Ford in 2000.

Now Visteon is in administration — but with Ford their main customer, the workers of Finaghy Road North feel the car company is morally responsible to help them.

In particular, they feel Ford should honour promises to ‘mirror’ Ford pay conditions. Ford said it has behaved responsibly and morally and that any promises were Visteon’s to keep.

But the Belfast workforce is not happy. “There's a hole in my pension, dear Henry, dear Henry,” implored one poster for the attention of the man who gave his name to Ford.

Most demonstrators spent 10 to 30 years at Visteon. It had raised their families, many said. In 13 years, Jake Burns (44) earned a “good” wage for his family. “There was a certain lifestyle we all had,” he said.

His first thought was: “We're not going down without a fight. Either the plant reopens or we get the redundancies we are entitled to.”

Stephen Davis (39) worked on the shop floor for 11 years. “We thought they'd look after us but it hasn't happened.”

The hardest blow is for his children. “They are beginning to realise that some of the things they used to do, they can't do any more.

“My kids will lose out more than me — I don't really have any kind of lifestyle, but they do.” Looking ahead to the future, he said: “I will be signing on this Friday.”

He has been occupying the factory along with other workers but they have been warned they may be thrown out. Support has been “tremendous — one guy came up and gave us £400 in an envelope”.

Elizabeth McGowan from Carryduff is living on benefits as she recovers from breast cancer. Her husband John (46) climbed the ladder at Visteon to become shift leader. After 30 years service, she said he will get “basic government redundancy”.

Their 14-year-old son Luke said: “My mum was sick and wasn't on proper pay and she still isn't working. My dad is being made redundant. What are we going to do?”

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