A leading trade unionist is today (Wednesday) calling on the Midlands mayor, Andy Street, to step up in the fight to avert the GKN jobs crisis which could see the company exit Erdington and the UK and 520 skilled jobs lost to the region.
GKN's plans to relocate overseas has sent shockwaves across the UK auto-sector.
Steve Turner warns that the site's closure would be a 'body blow' to the industry not just in the Midlands but across the UK at a critical time for the industry with high value components lost to, among others, JLR and Toyota.
He hit out at the government for making the decision to cease production of combustion engines in 2030, without any consultation and years ahead of what had already been agreed with the industry. The rushed decision has caused chaos across the sector putting jobs at risk.
Steve Turner is also urging the Mayor to back calls by Unite, Coventry airport and the city council for a gigafactory to be built on the airport site. The UK needs seven gigafactories but has only one in the pipeline, recently announced at Nissan in Sunderland.
According to Steve, the Coventry site should be the UK's second manufacturing giga-factory for electric batteries to feed the local auto sector.
Steve led successful campaigns to save Cammell Laird and Appledore shipyards and to bring the UK’s first electric battery gigafactory to Nissan, Sunderland, creating 6500 jobs, proving that government and employers can be won round to Unite's proposals.
He was also central to the creation of the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (furlough) introduced in April last year and has been fighting for it to be extended until 2022, in line with competitor nations while workers and employers adjust to another wave of the virus.
On his west Midlands visit, Steve Turner will also meet with workers at the Cadbury and Two Sisters plants.
Ahead of the visit, Steve Turner said: “This time last year, this region had more workers on furlough than any other in the UK.
“I am hugely proud of the role I played in keeping a wage coming in for these, and over 11 million workers nationally - but I am fighting again to have the scheme retained because we must support Midlands workers and businesses through the next stages.
"Quite clearly we are not out of the woods yet. It is simply irresponsible for the chancellor to pull the rug from under industry and workers while the health picture is so uncertain. We all want a safe reopening of the economy, but we must protect workers and give assistance to those sectors that will take some time yet to recover fully such as aviation and hospitality."
On manufacturing in the West Midlands Steve said:
“We need to get the West Midlands region roaring again. We simply cannot lose the GKN plant on Chester Road.
“If this were Germany, there is no way that Angela Merkel would even entertain the possibility of losing these skills and this region's place as a powerhouse of manufacturing excellence.
“The villain of this piece is the Westminster government, which got up one morning and announced the early death of the combustion engine, without a word to anybody in the auto industry. This has caused chaos and put thousands of jobs at risk.
“So they need to make amends, and fast, by seizing the opportunity to put the GKN site, its workforce and the West Midlands region at the heart of the green revolution that's sweeping through manufacturing.
“Get this right, and GKN could be at the heart of our auto sector’s transition. Get it wrong, and the body blow will be felt right across this industry.
"My message to our members who are battling to save their site and jobs is that I am in your corner and we can win.
“But I'm calling on the West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, to join forces with me, Unite members and Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, in a united front to say that we will not let this work be lost to this region.
"I'm also urging Andy Street to work with us on proposals for a gigafactory at Coventry airport to bring more jobs to the region. This is exactly what we need for the region, to cement its place in modern manufacturing and to give it the bright, green future its people deserve."
On his visit to Cadbury’s (Mondelez) Bournville plant, Steve Turner will congratulate the workforce for 'bringing home' the world’s favourite chocolate bar, Dairy Milk.
He’ll say: “While the world was shut down, this union’s members never stopped.
“They battled and won. They brought Dairy Milk back home where it belongs, to Bournville.
“Investment, more jobs and security for this world-class workforce - that’s what Unite delivers and I am determined we will keep doing this right across this region.”
Steve will also be visiting our members at the 2 Sisters Food Group site at Hill Top, West Bromwich, saying: “I want to thank our members who have worked throughout the pandemic under such intense pressure and our brilliant Unite safety representatives who have kept the workplace safe and protected members from falling ill during this unprecedented period."
Steve Turner is Unite's assistant general secretary for manufacturing, responsible for 350,000 manufacturing members’ jobs in the UK and Ireland.
Voting in the Unite general secretary election opened on July 5 and runs until August 23 with the result declared on August 26.