Page last updated at 21:50 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

What next for Mini plant workers?

Kelly Rickard and Owen Bednall
Kelly Rickard and Owen Bednall are angry at their treatment

In the latest round of cuts at the Mini plant in Oxford 850 agency staff have been told they no longer have jobs.

Agency staff have said they felt the writing was on the wall and "knew something was up".

There were reports that they were so frustrated they began damaging cars in retaliation, punching the bodywork to make dents or swapping keys, but "nothing catastrophic for the customer".

Kelly Rickard, 24, said: "It was the only way for people to vent their anger at that time."

Workers claimed that despite the rumours of job cuts circulating, the unions did not offer any answers or any support.

'Totally ignored'

Ms Rickard said: "We were trying to find out about our job safety and to be blanked or totally ignored."

Owen Bednall, a worker on the factory line, added: "We tried to contact the unions about what was going on and we just got, 'we don't know yet, we don't know yet, we're going to let you know soon', then nothing."

Although they had misgivings the workers say they did not expect what unfolded on Monday morning.

Workers at the Mini plant in Cowley

An hour before the shift was due to end at 0500 GMT, the factory line was stopped and they were shown into a conference room and told that this was to be their last shift.

"We were told, 'that's it','" Mr Bednall said, "we were not required to come back and ushered out by security, not even a thank you - something's wrong - something's very wrong.

"All those early mornings, all the effort we put in, all the contribution we made to the quality of the company and we get zero thanks - nothing and I've got no rights whatsoever."

The site will now close for a week, and weekend working has been scrapped.

BMW said that although workers were told it was their last shift on Monday morning they are being paid until next week - so were given a weeks notice.

But the reaction from the workers at the end of the shift spoke for itself.

Eggs were thrown, people stormed the platform and seized the microphone to have their say and started shouting.

"It was like a riot at one stage," Mr Bednall said. "Some people obviously came prepared and threw eggs, security were getting worried.

"The lady who read the brief was shaking like a leaf - they knew what they were doing was wrong.

Sophie Wilkinson and daughter Courtney
Ms Wilkinson said she had "no idea" what was happening

"We're just angry. Angry at the agency, angry at the unions for not backing us up and obviously at BMW."

The union shop steward for the plant Paul Jestiker said: "We're not in business of getting people sacked. We try to save jobs.

"On this matter the union cannot and can never be some sort of godfather which guarantees their jobs indefinitely."

Sophie Wilkinson, 27, is a single mum who has worked at the Cowley factory for over four years.

She said: "I was in the same position as everybody else - we didn't have any idea what was going on.

"It's scary because I have got a child to raise and I have been out there looking for jobs but I can't find anything.

"We've got to pay all our bills - with no preparation. If they had even given us a month we could have saved some money and put it aside.

"I haven't got a clue what I'm going to do. Obviously with having a child I need to find a job obviously around school care. I've got to look at going back onto benefits which is something i really don't want to do."

Kelly Rickard added: "I was sad I had to say goodbye to people I've seen weekend in, weekend out for four-and-half years.

"But mainly I was just shocked. I don't have a job now. How am I going to pay my rent and my bills? I've been trying to get another job in this economic crisis - but you just can't do it."

"I was going to go to college or university 10 years ago but I thought I should work instead. Now I don't have a degree and I'm jobless. What do I do next?"



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