Wabtec has announced that it is looking to shed 450 people from its workforce in Doncaster. That is nearly half the company’s workforce at that site.
It would be easy to put this move down as fallout from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic and lockdown. However, in its statement, the company didn’t reference COVID-19. Instead it blamed the fact that most train operators are buying new fleets of trains, ones that are more energy-efficient and less polluting, so fewer trains are now being refurbished to extend their working lives – which was the main business of the Doncaster plant.
A company spokesman said: “The transit rail industry in the United Kingdom is changing, as rail operators are updating their fleets with new rolling stock rather than refurbishing existing trains.
“In 2019, Wabtec’s Doncaster site completed most of its refurbishment projects and has a strategy in place to fulfil the remaining commitments. Given these realities, Wabtec is proposing to realign the site to focus on specific projects best suited for its operational strengths and better position the facility for long-term success.
“Decisions like this are never easy, but it will improve the site’s cost competitiveness and offer customers the best value. The proposed realignment includes a gradual workforce reduction of up to 450 employees from the third quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021. The company will enter a 45-day consultation period with the trade union and employee representatives to discuss the proposal and improved work practices.
“Wabtec is focused on meeting customer commitments and providing impacted employees with resources and benefits needing during this transition.”
It is a heavy blow for the Doncaster workforce. However, Wabtec has several other plants in the UK, so it remains to be seen whether there will be any redeployment of staff, or what ‘package’ employees will be offered.
The company said that it would consult with unions and employees. However, the RMT union was quick to condemn the move.
“The plan to almost halve the Wabtec Doncaster workforce with the loss of 450 jobs is devastating news for the area and the industry and is wholly opposed by RMT,” said general secretary Mick Cash.
“The fact that these savage cuts have been smuggled out under the cloak of the COVID-19 crisis is a disgraceful way to act and the plans should be immediately withdrawn to allow for discussions with the government and local politicians on how we protect these skilled engineering jobs before they are lost for good.
“RMT’s executive will be considering a detailed response to the plans which are another sign of the kind of carnage that is being lined up for the engineering and transport sectors off the back of this pandemic.”
However, although the timing coincides with the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown, Wabtec hasn’t stated that this is one of the reasons for the redundancies, instead blaming a shift in the market.
We shall have to see what the consultations bring.