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Tyne and Wear
AEI Cables: "Thrown out in disgraceful circumstances"
A worker and trade unionist who was sacked at AEI Cables in Birtley, Tyne and Wear in 2011 sent us this report on what happened last year. He writes as part of the committee of 'Shafted by AEI'. Reports on the appalling sackings were printed in the Socialist at the time.
I am ashamed to admit that I have never been particularly politically active; having been in steady employment for over three decades. I believed that voting Labour every four years was all I needed to do.
However, after being thrown out of work, along with more than 100 colleagues in the most disgraceful circumstances, I feel the need to stand up and be counted. Having come across your paper at the Newcastle May Day rally, I thought you may be interested in our story.
AEI Cables Ltd is an electric cable manufacturer, one of Birtley's major employers. It was established in 1929 and was taken over by Paramount Communications Ltd of India in 2007.
On 26 May 2011, AEI Cables Ltd informed the workforce of their intention to make around 100 redundancies, to claim insolvency and to apply for a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). Next day without consultation or notice 126 employees, most with well over 30 years' service, were informed, either in person or by letter, that their contract had been terminated by AEI with immediate effect.
The first two employees to go were the GMB union local branch chair and the union branch secretary. The management later congratulated themselves on TV news for having saved the remaining 189 jobs.
In the eight months before this announcement, these union representatives repeatedly asked why temporary workers employed by AEI were being trained on key jobs while full-time employees were doing menial tasks such as sweeping up. No answer was forthcoming.
Each of the 126 workers made redundant was informed that, due to the company's insolvency, no redundancy payment would be made. Instead, redundant employees were advised to apply to the government Insolvency Service. The taxpayer has thus taken on the bill for all these redundancies as well as for the 90 days statutory notice payment these workers received. AEI Cables paid nothing.
All we redundant workers got was the government-defined minimum. The enhanced redundancy agreements in place at AEI from previous pay and conditions negotiations were no longer applicable.
24 temporary employees were retained at the time of the redundancies. Employees with long service and decades of experience were chosen for redundancy before these workers.
Each person involved appealed against the redundancy and asked what selection criteria had been used. The company refused to consider any appeal, citing the CVA and the need for swift action to save the company, and claiming that the whole process had been carried out in less than 72 hours. But they said, even if correct redundancy procedure had been followed, those same employees would still have been selected.
Local MPs and union leaders have been approached since the redundancies but show reluctance to become involved, or to offer other than minimal help or guidance.
AEI Cables Ltd is still trading, and continues to take on temporary workers, performing tasks previously carried out by the redundant workers. On the local news, a temporary worker was shown being trained to run the machine previously operated by the now redundant GMB union branch chairman.
It seems any company can now terminate the contract of any employees, at any time, without notice or consultation, and without being liable for any redundancy payments - and expect the British taxpayer to fund all such payments. It seems a Company Voluntary Arrangement supersedes British employment law.
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