As many as 12,000 workers are set to lose their livelihoods after automaker giant Ford announced a new wave of cost reductions.
Employees at three factories in Russia are preparing to lay down their tools at the end of this month. Plants in Bordeaux, France and Bridgend, Wales are due to close, and there will be shifts cut at facilities in Valencia, Spain and Saarlouis, Germany.
The job losses have been condemned by unions.
“Ford as a company has benefited greatly from its 40-year association with Bridgend and Wales,” said Peter Hughes, regional secretary for Wales for the union Unite, in a statement to Al Jazeera. “It has a moral obligation and duty to our country to think again.”
The closures will have a devastating impact on local communities, say employees. The Bridgend plant in the United Kingdom has 1,700 workers, but as many as 5,000 people in the area will feel the impact, reported Autocar magazine.
Mass unemployment decisions affect not only the plant that is being shut down, but the businesses – such as pubs, restaurants and groceries – that depend on the formerly employed for their customer base.
The cuts come as part of a huge restructuring for Ford as it pivots towards producing electric vehicles.
“We are electrifying across our portfolio, providing all of our customers with more accessible vehicle options that are fun to drive, have improved fuel economy and are better for our environment,” said Stuart Rowley, president of Ford of Europe, in a statement.
John Gardiner, executive director of corporate communications for Ford of Europe, said it isn’t practical to adapt the soon-to-be-closed plants to the new technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles. Existing factories produce different components far away from main manufacturing facilities. New technologies, by contrast, are better suited to manufacturing hubs.
“A lot of the work on these new technologies is carried out close to the manufacturing plants,” Gardiner told Al Jazeera. “In Valencia, a new battery pack is being developed next to the production lines there. In Cologne, the engine plant is next to the vehicle-assembly plant.”
Ford said on Thursday that it was expecting significant improvements in its 2019 financial results – a development that is unlikely to provide much comfort to those being laid off.
“Ford Europe has not traditionally been a profit centre,” said Gardiner. “Over the past five to 10 years, the company has been negative for most of the time. We’re improving on financial results, yes, but it’s coming off a huge loss.”
Could these cuts prevent a further slide for Ford, with more people losing their jobs?
“Essentially, we’re taking these actions and putting this structure in place to build a sustainable profitability,” said Gardiner. “We’re not likely to be profitable this year [even with the job losses], but we should improve our results.”
“Everything is now on the table, though we are still in consultation with unions.”
Unite, which represents many of Ford’s engine builders in Bridgend, urged the company to reevaluate its strategy.
“If it fails to do this, the economic consequence for the Welsh nation will be grave,” said Hughes. “Its customer base in Wales and the across the UK will never forgive it.”