Workers could turn violent, employers warned

Angry workers who believe companies are not doing enough to support them during the recession could increasingly resort to staging protests on work premises and use agressive tactics to get their point across, employers have been warned.

Last week more than 100 employees at Visteon UK car-part factories in Belfast staged an overnight protest by locking themselves into the plant, after hearing the company had gone into administration and could not afford promised redundancy packages.

The protests quickly spread to plants in Basildon, Essex, and Enfield, North London, where at one point 130 workers occupied the roof.

The majority – 565 – of the 610 staff at Visteon, which used to be owned by Ford, were made redundant with no redundancy pay, which is possible by law as the company went into adminstration.

Hundreds of staff at telecommunications giant Nortel were also laid off last week with immediate effect and many will receive no redundancy pay, due to the company going bust.

Phil Merrel, director of performance practice at human capital management firm Penna warned that as there are an increasing number of firms going bust in the recession, the sit-ins seen at Visteon could be the first of many as industrial unrest grows.

He said: “This could be a straw in the wind unless we adopt a more structured approach to retaining skills during the tough times. There’s the real possibility of employers not having the money to honour contractual arrangements with regards to redundancy in the future.”

Lisa Patmore, employment partner at Pinsent Masons law firm, added that as economic conditions deteriorate the likelihood of employees taking matters into their own hands would increase.

“Some might argue we could face situations where chief executives of companies are, as in France recently, taken hostage by protesters” she said.

“Certainly, this, together with a willingness of protesters to use violence to get across their point, might make companies a little more security conscious than they may otherwise have been.”

Visteon employees protested last week to call on Ford to ‘do the right thing’ and offer financial support to the workers, many of whom had previously been employed by the car giant.

However, a Ford spokesman said the company would not be stepping into the dispute, as the situation was only between the employees involved and their current employer.

Staff at both Visteon and Nortel will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay, but they may have to wait up to six weeks to receive this.

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