Five questions answered on Honda’s jobs losses announcement

Axing 800 members of staff.

Car manufacturer Honda today announced it plans to scale down its work force in the UK. We answer five questions on the latest job losses at the car giant.

How many jobs will be lost at Honda?

Honda is planning on axing 800 members of its staff at its Swindon plant. This is the first time Honda has cut jobs in the UK since 1992.

A 90 day consultation period on the job cuts has now begun.

Why is Honda axing these jobs?

Japanese Honda is blaming weak demand in Europe, saying that demand for cars in the has region dropped by one million in the past year.

At the Swindon plant they built 166,000 cars in 2012, well below the capacity of 250,000. About 40 per cent of the cars produced in Swindon are sold in the UK.

The job losses shock comes after Honda announced a £267m investment in the UK in September last year.

What has Honda said?

In a press release Ken Keir, Executive Vice President, Honda Motor Europe, said:

 “Honda remains fully committed for the long-term to its UK and European manufacturing operations. However, these conditions of sustained low industry demand require us to take difficult decisions.

“We are setting the business constitution at the right level to ensure long term stability and security”

What are others saying?

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Paul Everitt told the BBC:

"Despite challenges brought by weak European demand, the longer-term prospects for the UK automotive sector remain good.”

Adding: “We hope that those affected will be able to take advantage of the opportunities we know exist throughout the UK sector and its supply chain."

What’s the general picture for the motor industry in the UK and Europe?

Figures from the SMMT earlier in the week showed that UK new car registrations had actually increased by 5.3 per cent in 2012 to 2,044 cars – the highest number since 2008.

SMMT figures also revealed that 54,208 Hondas were registered in the UK last year, up 7.2 per cent from 2011.

However, latest figures on car registration from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) revealed that in the first 11 months of 2012, 131,346 Hondas were registered in Europe – down 6.2 per cent from the same period last year.

Peugeot also said its global sales have fallen sharply.

Further painting a bleak picture for the European motor industry is other ACEA statistics that reveal car registrations in Greece were down 41 per cent in the first 11 months of 2012. Portugal was also down by 37 per cent and Italy down by 20 per cent.

Honda will cut jobs. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Getty
Show Hide image

There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.