Unite officials say employer has been ‘dragged kicking and screaming’ into negotiations, but has refused to disclose detailed plans


High-end engineering workers who make and distribute parts for Formula 1 car engines have begun three days of strike action after management ‘road blocked’ redundancy talks.

Unite members at Mahle Engine Systems in Ayrshire voted overwhelmingly for strike action last month, following almost a year of on-off talks over the future of the plant.

Unite rep, John Hawkshaw (pictured, 2nd right, with striking Mahle workers) told UnionNews: “This is the last thing we wanted to happen.

“Members are sad that it’s come to this because the unions have tried to have meaningful consultations for the last eight to ten months with Mahle, but unfortunately it’s only been one-way.”

133 jobs have been under threat since the engineering firm lost a contract in 2011 with Ford worth an estimated £4m a year and the company told staff it intends to move some work to sister sites in Italy and Slovakia.

Historically, East Ayrshire has been a manufacturing and industrial hub, but it currently has among the highest unemployment rates in the UK.

Managers of the German-based manufacturers have now said they want to cut the workforce by an additional 123 people.

The site produces engine parts for numerous models of cars across Europe and is the sole supplier of bearings used in all Formula One cars.

The union had agreed to a series of requests from management for meetings at the closure-threatened Kilmarnock site and in Rugby. Negotiators also agreed a legal extension to postpone strike action allowing further talks to take place.

However, further proposals from management were rejected in a consultative ballot last week by more than 65% of the workforce as commitments could not be secured to bid for new work and protect existing contracts that would help demonstrate profitability.

Unite says Mahle has not returned with a new offer since.

The strike begins just days after the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix and the union believes industrial action in the midst of the F1 season will increase pressure on management.

Regional industrial officer Jim Winter said: “This strike action is the culmination of nearly a year of stonewalling by Mahle on the future of this world-class manufacturing plant.

“It is sorely disappointing that it’s taken impending industrial action to even drag Mahle kicking and screaming to the negotiating table.

“This workforce has made every effort to appeal to management and our requests were modest. We asked for assurances that the plant could tender in a fair and time-bound manner for new work – this was road-blocked.

“We asked for decent redundancy payments for workers employed on contracts that Mahle refused to negotiate on – this was refused.

“Sadly, their directors are simply not prepared to give Kilmarnock a fair chance to fight for its future. The Ayrshire economy simply cannot sustain any more pain, so we’ll fight to defend skills and livelihoods.”

Further strike action is scheduled for Thursday and Saturday this week.

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