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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
'Emotional' end to Burberry fight
Burberry workers and supporters march through Treorchy

More than 300 workers have made a final march from the gates of a south Wales clothing factory which has closed after 60 years of production.

Burberry has closed its plant in Treorchy, Rhondda, after months of protests and negotiations, saying it is not commercially viable.

Celebrities had campaigned to keep the factory open, and the closure provoked protests around the world.

Workers were joined by a male choir on their final rally in the town.

Waving union banners, staff led a procession from the factory to cheers and applause as the Treorchy and Cwm Rhondda male voice choirs sang Speed Your Journey.

The workers were joined by family, friends, former workers, politicians, union leaders and a local jazz band as they began their march, swelling their number to around 400.

Jean Young, who worked at the factory for 25 years, said: "A lot of us have been crying and saying 'so long' to friends we might not see again.

"We're not all local and although we'll try and stay in touch, we're all going in different directions, some to new jobs, others retiring and some have already left with depression."

The company, which took over the plant in 1989, announced last September it planned to leave Rhondda and move polo shirt production overseas where costs were lower.

A Burberry worker heads home
Morale is still good - they're pleased with what the campaign has achieved
Mervyn Burnett, GMB

Treorchy's production will now be shared between sites in Spain, Poland, Portugal and China.

Although campaigners failed to secure the 309 jobs, it appears their efforts may not have been in vain.

Mervyn Burnett, a senior organiser for the GMB union, said concessions, which include enhanced redundancy payments, long-service awards, and around 500,000 for workforce re-training, were mainly down to campaign efforts.

He said although the workers would always resent the company, they had "come to terms" with the closure.

"Morale is still good - they're pleased with what the campaign has achieved," he added.

Support from Hollywood actors including Ioan Gruffudd and Michael Sheen, singer Sir Tom Jones, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and singer-turned-TV presenter Charlotte Church, helped give the campaign a wealth of publicity.

Workers said their farewells after the closure of the factory.

At the end of January, Burberry offered to donate the factory to the community - a gesture dismissed by the GMB Union as a "PR move".

The following month, the clothing firm pulled out of sponsoring a Bafta reception in London after it emerged workers were planning to protest outside the event.

On Valentine's Day the campaign went global with protests on the streets of Paris, New York, Chicago, Strasbourg and Las Vegas.

Burberry has since revised its offer to donate the factory, and has pledged to give the community 150,000 a year for the next 10 years.

Of the 309 workers originally facing unemployment, 175 have already found alternative work. All staff will receive redundancy packages of no less than 3,000.

There are hopes that a workers' co-operative, which could employ anything between 30 and 70 people, will be established in Treorchy.

Earlier this month, Harrods owner Mohamed al Fayed met a delegation of Burberry employees and pledged to place orders with them, should it get off the ground.

Burberry has also announced it would support the venture.

'Sad day'

Leighton Andrews, the Rhondda Labour candidate at the Welsh assembly election on 3 May, and who, as the AM for the past four years, has been at the forefront of the campaign, said it was a "sad day".

An upset supporter of the Burberry workers
Feelings run deep at the final rally to mark the factory closure

"We have all fought hard to keep it open, and we will continue to try to find jobs for those who are left," he added.

Paying tribute to the workers' campaign, Plaid Cymru's Rhondda candidate, Jill Evans, said: "I've been privileged to campaign with them and they're proof of the strong community in Treorchy and the Rhondda as a whole."

She added: "We must make sure this never happens again."

Liberal Democrat candidate Karen Roberts said: "Yet again it's jobs that have been lost to the area, and what do we replace them with?

"How many jobs do we have to lose before something is done?"

Conservative candidate Howard Parsons said it was a sad day for Burberry workers, for the Rhondda and for Wales.

Mr Parsons said there had been a "dignified and determined" campaign by the workers and every effort had to be made to help them find new jobs or to retrain.

A spokesman for Burberry said: "The Treorchy factory will close on 30 March, following a 12-month review from 2005-2006; a thorough consultation process and a three-month extension to the closure date, for employees to be retrained and to allow maximum time for staff to find alternative employment."


SEE ALSO
Rock acts play for Burberry staff
24 Mar 07 |  South East Wales
Burberry plant protests go global
14 Feb 07 |  South East Wales

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