Union fears over rail jobs

GEC-Alsthom sends out mixed signals about employment prospects

By Anthony Gould

GEC-Alsthom has dismissed accusations that it is planning extensive redundancies at its Washwood Heath plant despite winning the UK’s biggest ever rail order, from Virgin Rail.

The MSF union, representing workers at the GEC-Alsthom Metro-Cammell plant in Birmingham, has called for a meeting with the company to discuss the issue.

The plant was recently named in a joint venture with Fiat’s Ferrovaria as the preferred bidder by Virgin Rail for a £500m contract to supply 40 tilting trains for the West Coast Main Line.

But days before the Virgin Rail announcement, Mike Lloyd, managing director of GEC-Alsthom’s UK operations handed out a chart during a regular monthly meeting with workers at the plant. This, claims the MSF, shows employment at the plant halving to 400 during September and November.

The MSF said that Lloyd has since confirmed that the announcement of the Virgin contract would not make any difference to ‘the information on the chart’.

The plant has 700 employees on short-term contracts due to run out in October, following the completion of orders for London Undergound’s Northern and Jubilee lines, said a spokeswoman for GEC-Alsthom. She said no redundancies had been announced.

Industry observers said they would expect GEC-Alsthom to need to retain at least 300 of the 700 workers on short-term contracts for the tilting trains.

The MSF said: ‘There is clearly confusion and fear among the workforce. We hope this confusion has nothing to do with wage negotiations which have also just got under way.’

Rival UK-based bidder for the Virgin contract, Adtranz UK and Ireland, had said if it had won the contract it would have been able ‘to secure employment at its plants at its current levels’.