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60 years of Ford at Swaythling
8:07am Thursday 25th October 2012 in News
But during its six decades in the city, it has not gone without its troubles.
During recent years the plant has not been far from the headlines, dogged with industrial rows between workers and management over pay and pensions and at the centre of legal action of a spate of oesophageal cancer deaths of previous workers.
In 2000, the Swaythling plant also hit the news when 30-year-old worker Christopher Shute from Shirley died after drowning in a vat of paint.
Following a lengthy investigation and a hearing at Winchester Crown Court in 2003, Ford was fined a total of £300,000 and ordered to pay £46,688 costs, after the company pleaded guilty to two offences under the Health and Safety Act.
But there have also been happy occasions, such as the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Transit van when an advertising campaign on national TV featured many local workers.
And in 2007, the vehicle’s success was marked with a prestigious award of International Van of the Year.
But the following year, in May 2008 the threat of strike action was looming as company bosses and union leaders clashed over pensions.
The row broke out as the company moved to change the way pension inflation was calculated and the then 550 workers were balloted for industrial action alongside more than 10,000 staff nationwide.
But worse was still to come.
The Daily Echo revealed in July 2008, from a leaked memo, that 500 jobs were to be slashed at the plant. Output levels were to be cut and production of the Transit was to move to Turkey.
Concerns were so high that the matter was taken to the House of Commons by Southampton MP Alan Whitehead – prompting the then leader of theCommons Harriet Harman to go to the business secretary John Hutton about the issue.
The move angered trade union members who said they expected the company to honour its commitments to the city plant back in 2001, which said Southampton would continue to play a prominent role in Transit manufacturing in the 21st century.
In October 2008 union leaders called for a mass demo on the city streets in a bid to save the factory where 1,250 people were then working.
They warned that reducing output at the site from 75,000 vehicles to just 35,000 chassis cabs would be “the death knell”.
Dave Osborne, from the Unite union, said: “This is ridiculous and if approved will lead to the plant’s closure.”
The following month the battle to save Ford in the city was taken to Parliament by concerned MPs who tabled a motion calling on bosses to rethink plans to cut production.
The move also prompted hundreds of angry employees to walk out.
But by the end of the year things were taking another down turn as the plant shut up shop for Christmas in response to a drop in demand – casting further doubts on its future and that of the by then 1,100 workforce.
In February 2009 the official announcement was made that half of the workforce was to be axed. Described as one of the blackest days in the history of the plant, some 500 staff were to leave by May.
In late summer that year there was more disruption as contractors at Penske Logistics, based at the plant, voted on strike action over shift allowances.
And in December 2009, while battling recession, top level Ford chief Steve Adams delivered the bombshell news that he could not guarantee the future of the site.
However things started to look up. The start of 2010 saw Ford as a global company, back in the black for the first time in four years.
Three months into the year a £1.5bn investment was announced into the future of generation of new technology and green energies that would one day be used in the production of Transit vans which were being made in the city. Ford also reaffirmed its commitment to production in the city until 2012.
However despite production reportedly surging back to near full capacity, in the spring there was still a threat of strike action as a row over pensions continued.
By late 2011 there was sunshine on the horizon with bosses guaranteeing work until 2013 on the Transit, before it moved to Turkey. They revealed how after that happened, the city plant would continue as the European centre for chassis cab Transits, with an increased production.
Yet just last month fresh concerns were aired with the news that Ford was to offer its staff voluntary redundancy as part of plans to shed several hundred jobs across Europe.