Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Vestas workers on life after redundancy

By Michael Stoddard
BBC News Online

The protests at Vestas lasted for 18 days
The protests at Vestas lasted for 18 days last summer

The Vestas wind turbine blade factory on the Isle of Wight attracted attention from around the world when workers blockaded themselves inside for 18 days last year.

Their fight was eventually lost when 593 staff were made redundant at the island's Newport site and a factory in Southampton.

But six months on, how have they faired trying to find work?

Figures from job centres in Newport, Ryde and Southampton have revealed 281 workers initially signed on, with 115 of those managing to find new employment since.

A further 31 have stopped claiming, leaving 147 still on the dole up to December last year.

Many of the workers have since set up their own businesses, found jobs using previous skills or taking whatever employment is available.

Sean McDonagh
Sean McDonagh
Sean McDonagh is hoping to set up his own wind turbine blade business

Sean McDonagh, 31, supported the sit-in protest from outside the factory and received a £2,500 redundancy package after three years of employment there.

"The trouble was I was earning £1,400 after tax each month so that redundancy didn't go far," he said.

"Luckily I managed to go back to an old job as a builder's mate and a lot of workers have gone back to what they used to be doing."

He said he was now trying get his own wind turbine blade business off the ground with five former Vestas employees.

"The blades will be relatively small compared to what we used to do but with 30 years experience between us we are hoping to make it work."

Mr McDonagh said he has managed to arrange a meeting with Lord Hunt at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to discuss what funding is available for the venture.

Dave Arbuthnott
David Arbuthnott
David Arbuthnott spent 18 days in the plant during the occupation

Dave Arbuthnott, 41, was one of the workers who spent 18 days occupying the Newport factory.

His demonstration cost him a £6,000 redundancy package.

"Most people are struggling. I am trying to keep up payments on a loan with no job," he said.

"I am fighting to get that redundancy through a tribunal, but in the meantime finding work is tough."

He is attending a carpentry course at college for two-and-half days a week.

"It's strange really because when I was at school I always wanted to be a carpenter," he added.

"I should hopefully be finishing the course and going straight out to work sometime early next year."

Penny Draper
Penny Draper
Penny Draper is hoping to benefit from an Isle of Wight tourism boom

Penny Draper, 34, worked for Vestas for three years.

Along with her husband, who had also left the firm, they sold their house and put their redundancy money into setting up a bed and breakfast business.

But in the meantime she has been pulling pints at a local pub, although she has recently managed to secure a job as a learning support assistant at a school in Newport.

She said: "It is still nowhere near the salary I was on at Vestas.

"It has had a huge financial impact on me and my family.

"It's about 50/50 of the people I knew from Vestas, with a few of them getting jobs on the mainland but some of my close friends still haven't got full-time jobs."

Job Centre
Job Centre sign
A number of organisations offered help to the works

When Vestas announced plans to close its sites a taskforce was set up between a number of public bodies to help people back to work.

Project manager Helen Edmunds, from Jobcentre Plus, said: "When we first went into the company there was a very definite and positive response from the workforce that they would be finding themselves work.

"They were very young, 90% of the company were under 50, that meant they had mortgages and families.

"They needed to very quickly get themselves re-established. They were very positive and proactive in that.

"Many of them have gone into a wide range of jobs, which for some has meant working on the mainland.

"Overall to get more than 100 back to work up until December last year, and undoubtedly more since then, I think it has gone very well."

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