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June 30, 2021

GKN union to ballot for Birmingham strike action

British union flexing its muscles as GKN prepares to close Birmingham plant in 2022.

By Simon Warburton

GKN is remaining tight-lipped concerning British union claims workers at its Birmingham driveline factory are preparing to ballot for strike action.

UK labour body, Unite, says workers at the GKN Automotive factory in Chester Road, Birmingham, are preparing for a strike ballot, as part of the campaign to keep the factory open.

GKN Automotive announced plans earlier this year it was to close the Birmingham plant in 2022, with the loss of more than 500 jobs, which will impact what is traditionally the heart of the British automaking region.

The union previously raised concerns surrounding the possible loss of skilled production from Britain at the site, which produces drivelines for GKN, but the supplier insisted the factory was no longer viable in an increasingly competitive global market.

Unite says in a consultative ballot, the workforce “overwhelmingly” voted in favour of strike action and the labour association is now preparing for a full industrial action ballot. If members vote for strike action, stoppages could start later this summer.

“The GKN workforce is prepared to go the extra mile to ensure the future of the factory and pave the way for the successful electrification of the UK car industry, but their ambitions are being squashed by government inaction and GKN Melrose’s determination to close the site,” said Unite national officer for the Automotive Sector, Des Quinn.

“As such the workers believe they have no option other than to take strike action. This step is a last resort and it will inevitably cause severe disruption to production schedules for the company’s key customers.

“The solution is obvious. The government needs to make good on its promises to support the company through a period of change and GKN Melrose needs to end its threat of closing a strategically important and valuable asset.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner raised the GKN Automotive situation at the summit yesterday (29 June) held by the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT). “It’s a disgrace we’re having to battle to save skilled jobs at GKN because the government is sitting on its hands,” said Turner.

“Angela Merkel would not allow Germany to lose these vital trades because that country is stepping up to the green challenge. Yet here, Boris Johnson wants the plaudits, but the truth is his government is doing next to nothing to help renew manufacturing in this country.

“The GKN plant will not be allowed to go to the wall. It must be brought into a ‘national electrification strategy.’ We desperately need resilient supply chains, transitioning our plants and skills to manufacture the components of the future.”

Since 2018, GKN has been owned by venture capitalists Melrose, with the purchase proving highly controversial. In response to fears GKN was going to be asset stripped, Melrose promised shareholders and investors it would establish a ‘UK manufacturing powerhouse.’

GKN was not immediately available to respond to just-auto concerning proposed strike action at the Chester Road plant, but previously noted: “GKN Automotive has fully considered the counter proposals put forward.

“However, the outlook for the highly competitive automotive market remains unchanged.

“Regretfully, therefore, we are proceeding with our proposal to close the site. Supporting our people continues to be our priority.”

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