Staff at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Birmingham are working in a toxic atmosphere of “fear and mistrust”, as the car giant this week announced a two-week shutdown in production.
News of the shutdown comes just weeks after the firm announced that its Castle Bromwich plant would go onto a three-day week affecting some 10,000 workers – almost a quarter of JLR’s workforce – at the Solihull plant.
The company’s woes stem from consumer and government uncertainty over Brexit, along with tumbling diesel sales and a failure to attract new customers in the burgeoning Chinese market.
The situation led the company’s CEO, Rath Speth, to warn that tens of thousands of jobs would be at risk in the event of a no deal on Brexit, potentially costing the firm £1.2bn.
The newly-announced two week shut down – starting from 22nd October – will affect production of the firm’s most profitable cars, and the uncertainty of the situation has taken its toll on workers, who told the HuffPost UK that they dread going into work every day, not knowing if it will be their last.
Unions too have warned of the stresses faced by ordinary workers, describing the atmosphere as “toxic” and “like a darkening grey cloud.”
One worker, who asked not to be named, said: “We are sick of the management here and there is increasing bitterness towards them.
“The information we get often comes in bits and pieces, usually via the media, and nobody here has the guts to tell us exactly what’s happening on a daily basis.
“Its demoralising and tiring both mentally and physically. You can feel the anxiety and hatred towards the managers but everyone is too scared to ask too many questions for fear of being labelled a troublemaker.”
The JLR worker continued: “It’s got to the stage where nobody trusts them anymore. Nobody wants to take responsibility for our jobs and future, and we are talked about like we are just a commodity or resource that can be switched on or off.”
It’s not just workers in Castle Bromwich who are feeling anxious about their jobs. An operations manager at Solihull’s Lode Lane plant told HuffPost UK that workers sometimes had little to do as existing orders were quickly fulfilled but falling demand meant they weren’t replaced by fresh ones.
He said: “We’ve been told we have overhit our three-monthly production targets but there are no new orders coming in as every car is pretty much bespoke and built to order.
“It’s ironic that workers have sometimes just been told to sit idle on a Friday shift because there is no work.
“We all work now in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust and its incredibly frustrating as we used to have a great camaradarie amongst workers.
“There is so much misinformation out there and it doesn’t help when management tell us any talk of closing the plant is just ‘fake news’ just to add to the confusion.”
Fresh orders appeared to have dried up for Jaguar Land Rover, according to shop-floor workers, as consumer anxiety over Brexit and falling diesel sales, coupled with a recent 46% drop in sales in China, hits the UK’s biggest car manufacturer hard.
Alex Flynn, of the union Unite, described the difficulties facing JLR as a “perfect storm” and blamed the government for failing to build a proper infrastructure for electric vehicles including a sufficient number of accessible charging points.
He said: “There is a palpable fear and feeling of uncertainty that pervades the shop-floor at JLR which is just not fair to the workers who brought JLR back from the brink and turned its fortunes around not so long ago.
“These are decent hardworking people who are having to live day to day not knowing if they have any kind of future at work.
“A triple whammy of Brexit uncertainty, government confusion over diesel and ministers’ half-hearted support for electric vehicles have been then problem.”
David Bailey, Professor of Industry at Aston University, said the proposed shutdown could see 14-15,000 fewer vehicles being made resulting in a “hit of over £600m on the firm’s revenues for the year and as much as over £100m on the bottom line.”
He added: “Quite why sales haven’t bounced back for JLR isn’t at all clear – Audi meanwhile has been chalking up sales records in China, with sales up 13% in September. Is it JLR’s product mix? Is it the dealership network? It’s not at all clear.
“The UK government needs to pull its finger out to end uncertainty here – notably on Brexit and policy on diesels – and in better supporting the take up of electric cars.
“Otherwise the UK risks losing a wave of investment, and with it, a raft of new technologies.”
A JLR spokesperson said yesterday: “Customer orders in the system will not be impacted and employees affected will be paid for the duration of the shutdown.”