OSSIE SHEARER on yet another worrying week for Viasystems workers
Just as hundreds of employees in the Scottish Borders electronics industry did seventeen years ago, thousands of workers on the Viasystems payroll are this week probably agonising over their own futures amid fears of yet another workforce cull.
We recently reported on the takeover of the US printed circuit board makers by another American outfit, TTM Technologies from California in a $927 million deal which has created a global giant with a joint team of 30,000 workers. This week the new best buddies will reveal details of what the merger might mean for stakeholders.
But with some of their production processes said to be "over-lapping" it is feared jobs will be lost as they pursue their dream of saving $55 million dollars as a direct result of their partnership. It will all sound more than a little familiar to the one thousand former Viasystems workers in Selkirk and Galashiels and hundreds more on Tyneside who were victims of the ruthless "casino capitalists" in the 1990s.
As well as closing factories and leaving local politicians to tackle the economic problems created by their heartless working practices, Viasystems executives, including current chief David Sindelar, also left without repaying £17 million of Regional Selective Assistance funding handed to them by a gullible UK Government. No effort was made to recover the cash.
The new generation of Viasystems workers who wonder what this week might hold have been expressing strong view on US websites. One wrote: "Viasystems merger with TTM Technologies=DOOM" If only social media had been around in 1998...what would the hard working Borderers have said about the uncaring attitude of their filthy rich bosses?
Other internet posters claim: "Management force employees to work a seven day schedule", and "Management is smug and don't care about their people" or "Since day one I have worked six days a week - five 10-hour shifts and a 12 hour. Realise your employees have lives and families and this is the cause of your high turnover rates. Zero leadership - no vision. Borderline sweatshop mentality."
Viasystems has already paid out millions of dollars to departing workers in the form of severance packages. But it is to be hoped that any deals which flow from the merger with TTM leave redundancy victims better off than British workers who fell by the wayside when the company shut up shop here. Many of them received next to nothing.
A well-timed bankruptcy in the 1990s meant some ex-employees who were entitled to between £12,000 and £35,000 each ended up with two or three-pence in the pound because they were classed as unsecured creditors by the liquidators. So a £16,870 severance package became £386 overnight.
While legal actions were raised by trade unions in a bid to secure a better deal for devastated workers facing a bleak future Viasystems chairman Tom Hicks was shelling out £450 million to buy Liverpool FC.
Graeme McIver, from Galashiels, worked for Viasystems and its predecessors in the Borders for 13 years. He was the senior staff shop-steward for the Transport and
General Workers Union at both plants and was the media spokesperson during the
workers battle to keep the factories open. He contacted us after our previous Viasystems article.
He told us: " The effect of the closure was not just to strip over 1,000 people of their
immediate livelihoods but to deprive future generations the opportunity to
continue earning decent wages in a skilled manufacturing environment. Whilst it
is true that the bulk of former workers were able to find alternative
employment, it is unlikely that the majority ever managed to earn similar levels
"I know from my own experience that employment in the Borders tends to be
low-paid, temporary or zero-hour contracts, a lack of trade-union recognition
and consequently poor work-place conditions. This has a detrimental knock on
effect onto the local economy and restricts job opportunities for young people,
many of whom have to leave the area to seek decent employment."
Graeme described the owners of
Viasystems as casino capitalists who deliberately and systematically abused
and exploited weak employment laws and government grant assistance to facilitate
the asset stripping of the Borders plants. In turn they planned to increase
profits by exploiting the low regulation, poor health and safety provision and
poverty wages of workers in Mexico and China to keep the cash rolling in. He said: "To me
they are beneath contempt".
But while lowly production staff may be about to suffer once more at the hands of their management, the men at the top of the Viasystems empire will feel no financial pain even if they are affected by the TTM takeover.
It turns out that on the day the deal was announced Viasystems board of directors approved the setting up of a pool of $1,189,150 to pay cash bonuses to "designated officers and key employees" once the merger deal was delivered.
New deals for David Sindelar and two senior colleagues means he is entitled to $9.1 million if the axe falls in the wake of the takeover. In addition he would also continue to receive his $920,000 a year salary (plus expenses) for 18 months.
It really is tough at the top.