Words by Adam Smith
Erdington’s sprawling GKN Automotive factory, Chester Road, is being closed down with the loss of more than 500 jobs.
GKN‘s owner Melrose Industries announced the news, which will bring down the curtain on one of the UK’s oldest engineering assembly lines, to shocked workers this week.
Workers were informed of the decision through a letter from GKN Automotive chief Liam Butterworth, who said: “GKN Automotive has taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of our assembly site at Chester Road, Birmingham.
“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. This is despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the site’s high operating costs and make it competitive.
“Supporting our people is our first priority as we consult on this proposal. Employees at the site are being notified today and support is being made available to them throughout this process. We will then commence a period of consultation with the union and employee representatives in the coming weeks.
“We expect this proposal to impact 519 employees. The proposal envisages that GKN Automotive will carefully wind down the site over 18 months to ensure an orderly and stable transition of operations and give those affected time to find new work. The proposal is to transfer production to other sites in our network.”
Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile takeover in which they promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.
The restructure will not affect GKN’s plants in Sutton Coldfield and Minworth.
Unite national officer Des Quinn said: “The workforce have been left shocked and angry to learn that management is looking to close this highly viable site.
“Unite is now seeking urgent meetings with senior management at GKN to understand the business case and the logic behind this decision.”
He added: “Unite is committed to working with GKN to find a feasible solution, which will keep the factory open and preserve the jobs of this highly skilled workforce.”
Erdington MP Jack Dromey opposed the £8.1 billion takeover in 2018 warning the British multinational Melrose Industries would cut costs and jobs.
He said: “Despite all the warm words by Melrose in 2018 to protect the future prosperity of GKN and its British workforce, the cold reality three years on is that one of GKN’s finest plants now faces closure. Melrose promised a bright future to GKN’s employees – a promise they have now broken.
“This announcement is completely unexpected by employees at GKN. Working together with their trade union, Unite, I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company.
“Government Ministers also have a responsibility to act after promises they made at the time of the hostile takeover.”
A spokesperson from GKN Automotive said: “Proposing this closure is a difficult decision which has been made despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the high operating costs at the Birmingham assembly site.
“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. Supporting our people is our priority as we consult on our proposals.”
John Taylor Hospice’s former press officer and Pype Hayes resident Ray Woods lamented the closure of the factory and its impact on the community.
He said: ”My thoughts are with the employees of GKN in Pype Hayes. They and their former senior management helped to raise thousands of pounds for John Taylor Hospice. They should be very proud.
“This is another blow for Erdington and the local community.”
To find out more about GKN Automotive, visit www.gknautomotive.com
For more from Unite the Union, visit www.unitetheunion.org