Delphi turns to Government for help

AN engineering plant hit by the downturn in the automotive industry called for Government help as it tries desperately to hang on to its 800-strong workforce.

Sarah Chambers

AN engineering plant hit by the downturn in the automotive industry called for Government help as it tries desperately to hang on to its 800-strong workforce.

The Delphi factory at Sudbury, which makes diesel filters and injectors for trucks, has implemented a number of measures including sabbaticals and a reduction in production days in a bid to stave off redundancies.

But as South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo toured the plant yesterday afternoon to discuss the plight of the industry, the firm, whose parent company is in America, said it was reaching the point where it had exhausted most of the options.

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The MP said he would be approaching Lord Mandelson's office, the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) on the firm's behalf on Monday.

Human resources manager Steve Coppock described the present climate in the industry as “terrible”.

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“Our workforce have stuck with us and we have all taken some pain in keeping this together and not having redundancy,” he said.

“We are really saying what else can we do?”

The company laid off more than 100 hourly-paid agency workers in November last year as market conditions led to a downturn in orders.

“Since then, we have had a number of days where we have had no work so our people have been taking the time off and banking the time or taking holidays out of season,” said Mr Coppock.

The company has also launched a sabbatical programme letting people take time off for a few months, initiated temporary, part-time working and asked people to come forward who are thinking about retirement, he explained.

“We have been working on a number of initiatives but we have now got to the stage where we have exhausted most of the options,” he said.

“It's unlikely it's going to recover in the short to medium term. The first quarter of this year up to March all our customers are de-stocking. That's had an added depression on the site because they are not buying.”

They expected to see a slight recovery after that as de-stocking came to an end, he said,

“The first quarter we know has been probably worse than to now so we think we are going to have a slight recovery,” he said.

“Clearly there's no big uplift yet and people are suggesting it's going to be the end of 2009/10 at the earliest. That's why we really need some help from the Government to support the workforce.”

He pointed out that the factory was “a big, big part” of Sudbury. “We need some support. Our people have given a lot,” he said.

Paul Brewster, senior shop steward at Unite, said they were involved in regular meetings with management.

“We have been working with the company, meeting us every week to try and keep the workforce on full pay. We are working together. It's difficult times. So far we have avoided any loss of money,” he said.

“The next quarter is going to be very difficult until people stop de-stocking and confidence gets in the market for people to start buying vehicles again.”

Workers at the plant understood the difficulties within the industry, and both sides were trying to work together, he said.

“Obviously, they understand all the problems and it's a global problem. We have been in these situations before when it's just been manufacturing but now it's affecting every sector. People are just not buying luxury goods. Although we manufacture for diesel trucks rather than cares it has a knock-on effect. There's less trucks on the road and companies when they would normally be changing them in for new ones they are hanging out for longer,” he said.

He said he hoped Mr Yeo might be able to use his influence “to get some of this money which Mr Mandelson says is available to help us through these difficult times”

Meanwhile, management were doing what they could to avoid job cuts, he said.

“They are doing all they can. It doesn't help the situation that Delphi globally are in. They are still in Chapter 11 (bankruptcy protection) in the States and they have very little money to help their sites in Europe,” he said.

“They have said they'll do everything they can to avoid redundancies because they want to retain the core skills which is understandable because when we do come out of it if they make skilled people redundant they'll have nobody here to do the manufacturing when things do pick up.”

Mr Yeo described the plant as “impressive” and pointed out that it was exporting to China and helping to make vehicles greener with technological advances.

“I think there's a very powerful case to be made for this company. It's the biggest employer in the district. It's got an impressive record of training its workforce,” he said.

The firm had done “all the sensible things” in trying to keep going in tough times, and was a business that deserved to survive and prosper.

“I think they have done very well. I think they have gone to very great lengths to keep the workforce,” he said.

“That's why they deserve some help now because there comes a time when they cannot afford to keep everyone on full pay without having any demand for the product.

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