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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK

Business: The Company File

Ford's Dagenham plant saved

A new look Fiesta will be built at Dagenham

The long term future of Ford's huge car plant in Dagenham has been secured - safeguarding 30,000 jobs. BBC News Online's Andrew Yates reports on some welcome news for the beleagured British car industry.

At last, some good news for British car workers.

The jobs of the 8,000 or so workers at Ford's Dagenham plant in South East England are now safe, not to mention the future of more than 20,000 people whose work hinges on supplying the plant with vehicle parts.

Ford's management have thrashed out a deal with unions and workers to improve productivity at Dagenham.

In return, Ford has committed to building two new models at the factory - ensuring it continues to produce vehicles well into the next millennium.

Christopher McGowan: Ford has made a big commitment to Britain
Ford has agreed to build a new generation Fiesta at Dagenham by 2001. It is also looking to produce a new 'people carrier' at the plant. This new model is likely to be made exclusively at Dagenham by 2001/2 and production could reach up to 150,000 vehicles a year.

"This agreement ensures that Dagenham has a future. This is not just a quick fix, it is a long term solution," one leading union official told BBC News Online. .

Jobs safe

No new redundancies are planned at Dagenham. Instead unions and workers have agreed to adopt a range of new working practices. This will involve matching workers hours more closely to production needs.

By agreeing to changes, the unions have averted the threat that Ford could have moved production overseas, to rival factories in Germany or Spain.

[ image: Ford workers have taken a flexible attitude]
Ford workers have taken a flexible attitude
The move should also ensure that Dagenham becomes one of the most productive plants in Europe - at the moment it is still well behind some of its rivals.

Union officials said there would be no changes to shift patterns or hours.

Most of Dagenham's workers have been put on a four day week since last October.

The huge plant in east London, will remain on a four-day week until the end of July, when the factory will close for its two week summer shutdown.

Ford blamed a shortage of demand for the Fiesta in Europe for the decision.

The deal marks a huge step forward for Dagenham and its workers at a time when the global car industry if facing an uncertain future and hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world are coming under threat.

"This is a win-win situation. It raises the possibility that a third or even fourth new model could be produced at Dagenham. This is all thanks to the hard work people have put in over the past few years," said Steve Turner, a local official of the Transport and General Workers Union.

Proud history

It will also help maintain Dagenham's proud car building history. The Dagenham plant has been producing cars since 1931. Nestled next to the Thames, it was erected on former marshland, with 22,000 concrete piles used in its construction.

It is Ford's largest factory in the UK - producing the country's most popular car the Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 121. It also makes around 50,000 vans a year and provides diesel engines for the whole of Ford's global empire.

Ford has already worked hard to improve productivity at Dagenham. However, a decline in car sales and a rise in the value of the pound has had serious repurcussions for Ford - forcing lay-offs and another re-think at the plant.

With motor industry experts predicting the turmoil in the car industry is set to continue over the next few years unions appear to have learnt some hard lessons from the problems encountered by Rover. The former British car giant has fallen from grace and clocked up huge losses - leading to thousands of redundancies.

In marked contrast to the situation at Rover, unions have acted swiftly to head off swingeing cuts at Dagenham.

Crucial changes

The Ford agreement has not come a moment too soon.

John Hartley, motor industry consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit, told BBC News Online that as the car industry comes to a standstill, companies will be forced to change the way they do things.

With more and more continental European plants adopting highly flexible working hours, British car workers have little choice but to follow suit.

"There is not going to be much growth (in the car industry) over the next five years and there is already a surplus in car capacity

"Car companies and plants have to become more efficient to stay in business," said Mr Hartley.

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