Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 15:31 UK

'We'll continue plant occupation'

By Johnny Caldwell
BBC News

Janet Kenny

Janet Kenny is one of the few female faces among the workers who have taken over car components plant Visteon in west Belfast.

The 46-year-old Lisburn woman is resolute that the protest at their former place of employment should continue until she and her colleagues get what they say they were promised.

The Visteon workers say the company's former owner, Ford, had promised them redundancy contracts.

But after being told there was no work for them on Monday, they now face only getting the statutory minimum as well as losing thousands of pounds paid into pensions.

"We'll be here as long as it takes until we get Ford to come in here and honour their agreements," said Janet.

"Either get the plant back up and running again or give us the payoff that we deserve."

Colum McCann

Although she's keen to point out that she's far from being "one of the oldest hands", with 11 years' service, Janet nevertheless describes the plant as a "second home".

"I spent more time here with these guys than I did at home - we'd good craic, good carry-on, and a 50/50 workforce in terms of Catholics and Protestants," she said.

"There's men here over 30 years, who came up here in the Troubles through barricades and bombs, and guys who were shot but yet this is the way Ford is going to shaft us."

Colum McCann, 51 from Poleglass has been working at the former Ford plant for 30 years.

"It has been a lifeline, I've been feeding the family and paying the bills and now that's all gone," he said.

Neil McCoy
Neil McCoy has been working at the plant for 15 years

"And bar one or two jobs, this is really all I've ever done and after all these years to have nothing, it's just devastating."

Despite the graveness of their situation, the workers remain in high spirits, and workplace banter appears to have transferred to the picket line.

"The morale's good," said Neil McCoy, 33 from Holywood.

"But everybody's determined, we're here for the long haul, we're here until we get resolution, until we get Ford to the table and get them to engage in meaningful discussion.

"There were 50 to 60 people here throughout the night and we're now working on a rotational system to ensure that somebody is here all the time.

"We've fully occupied the plant and we're definitely here to stay."

Paul Shannon
Paul Shannon says the future looks bleak

But despite their determination to get what they believe they are owed, the workers admit finding alternative employment in an economic downturn will be extremely difficult.

"I started here when I was 22, I'm 52 now and I've really known nothing else but this factory," said Dunmurry man Paul Shannon.

"And now that it's gone I can't see anything out there for me.

"My skills base is built on what I've done here and there's nothing out there, except maybe stacking shelves or whatever, but it's going to be something menial."

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