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EMPLOYEES of Cooper Tires face an anxious future after news that the company is planning to cease mass tyre production the town.
300 workers out of the 732 employees in Melksham would lose their jobs under the proposals and are waiting for further news this week about what will happen during the 10-month consultation period.
Following the announcement, a task force has been set up to help the workers find new jobs and to provide re-training. At risk are approximately 212 rubber worker roles, 43 engineering roles and 45 salaried roles.
The news was announced to a shocked meeting of all Cooper Tire employees on 10th October. The company said it is “not economically feasible to modernise or expand the Melksham site for light vehicle tyre production.” Tyre production is expected to be moved to its plant in Serbia.
Cooper Tires, though, say Melksham will remain the home of its European headquarters, and its sales and marketing offices, Europe Technical Centre and materials business, and plans to continue production of specialised motorsports and motorcycle tyres at the Melksham plant.
At the scene, father and son Tom and Brad Wilkins told Melksham News, “There is still hope for some, and it is a lot better than everyone first thought but it’s still shocking. It will mostly be the shop workers that are affected, which is around 360 employees.”
Brad Wilkins is an apprentice electrical engineer who has just completed his third year, with no certainty of finishing his fourth and final year. I have no idea whether I will be kept on after the 10-month consultation period,” Brad said. “You just have to expect the worse and hope for the best.”
His father, Tom Wilkins said, “The consultation is to see whether it is viable to get rid of the light tyre production. It first came as a shock but if you read more into it, it’s inevitable it was going to happen, they have invested so much as a company over in Serbia. The worst bit is the uncertainty, not knowing who will go. It doesn’t look good for Melksham however, we all were expecting it to shut completely, everyone was so nervous in the meeting.”
The Melksham site has been home to a tyre factory since 1890 and is the town’s largest employer.
Melksham Town Council said it was ‘saddened’ by the news and offered to ‘provide whatever support it is able’ to the workers affected.
The council is to join a Task Force along with representatives from Wiltshire Council, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Wiltshire College, and the National Careers Service.
Alistair Cunningham, Wiltshire Council’s corporate director for growth, investment & place said, “This is clearly an uncertain time for those Cooper Tire employees who are at risk of redundancy and we will be doing all we can to support them both during and after the consultation. A multi-agency taskforce has been set up and is ready to offer a range of practical help which will include training, skills development and help finding new employment.
“There are a number of major employers in the area and there is a high demand for skilled workers.
“Wiltshire Council has strong links with Cooper Tire and we will continue to work closely with them to help secure the business’s long-term future in the area.”
Paddy Bradley, the director of Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership said, “We will work with Wiltshire Council and other partners to help manage the impact of the proposed job losses at Cooper Tire in Melksham.
“We are keen to enable such a highly skilled workforce to find employment within Swindon and Wiltshire and offset the impact on the community and economy. We will offer information, advice and guidance to those affected.”
Director of New Resource recruitment agency in Melksham, Ian Constant said, “It’s incredibly sad to hear that over 300 people may now lose their jobs. Established local companies have already come forward to New Resource, asking us to specifically highlight to them any members of staff from Cooper Tire Europe over the coming months.
“Melksham remains a good place to live and work, it is still growing, so all is not lost for the town.”
Local MP Michelle Donelan, who visited the site following the announcement, says she spoke with staff, including union representatives. She said, “A taskforce has been launched and numerous local companies have already been in touch stating that they are doing a recruitment drive and are keen to interview some of the staff. Cooper Tires is iconic to Melksham and it is important that they are keeping their HQ in our town and I shall be supporting them in the long term so they can grow the divisions they are keeping in Melksham.”
Speaking to the BBC, the MP said that cheap tyre imports from China were not to blame and cited lower labour costs in countries such as Serbia. However, Rob Atkins of the Unite union said that the union had been campaigning for the government to put tariffs on cheap Chinese tyres coming into the country.