You don’t need an elephant’s memory to recall the name of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas.
It’s the company that closed down its facility on the Isle of Wight back in 2009 and made over 600 skilled workers redundant, citing “lack of demand” and opposition to onshore wind farms in Britain.
As commentator Seumas Milne wrote acidly at the time: “You couldn’t make it up.”
The closure sparked a sit-in and occupation the like of which the Isle of Wight had never seen and generated a nationwide campaign in support of the sacked workers.
What rubbed salt into the wound was that Vestas had received £3.5 million in subsidies when it opened the factory – a subsidy which, needless to say, wasn’t recalled by flaccid business secretary of the time Peter Mandelson, who was probably ” intensely relaxed” about people getting filthy rich on taxpayers’ cash.
It’s doubtful that the Isle of Wight workers were so intensely relaxed, or the just under 1,300 workers in Denmark the company simultaneously axed.
Especially since the company had reported just days before that profits had more than doubled in the first quarter of the year to €76m.
At the time Vestas on the island was a largely non-union plant with an anti-union management and a culture of bullying, according to staff. Managers threatened to bring charges and sack anyone who continued the sit-in and employed a private security firm to seal the doors to the occupied offices, cut the phone landlines, and block food and drink being sent in.
Campaigners then reported that “subsidy-chasing, socially irresponsible conduct of Vestas, and the lack of safeguard set down by the Lib Dem council and the regional development authorities meant that the Isle of Wight had been set back more than a decade.”
It’s not an exactly loyal firm. In 2010 it announced the closure of five production plants across its native Scandinavia and cut 3,000 jobs.
It said the surge in demand for wind power it had hoped for had not materialised and it would have to shift production away from Denmark and Sweden towards Spain to protect profits. Goodbye 3,000 Scandinavian jobs.
This subsidy-chasing monstrosity is the same firm that is now saying that it has secured rights to land in Sheerness which could lead to a wind turbine manufacturing facility, creating up to 2,000 jobs.
However, it’s only a one-year option on the land and Vestas is up to its old tricks again. Offshore president Anders Søe-Jensen said that “the company would only make a final investment if the government can offer market and regulatory certainty from a transparent, stable policy framework, and investment support to reduce the risk and cost of building a large facility.”
In other words, “what’s the subsidy?”
From what we can see from across the globe, that’s the normal attitude from this company and, indeed, across the industry.
And it’s not acceptable. There’s nothing against supporting companies that are producing jobs. But there have to be considerably better guarantees that the jobs are permanent and the company’s aspirations are long-term than we have seen previously.
Workers are not mere pawns whose jobs can be taken away as the market changes to adjust the company’s profit figures. People are what it’s all about, not firms and their bottom lines.
Vestas may think the government hasn’t learned the lesson of the Isle of Wight and it’s probably right.
But the trade union movement has and taxpayers’ cash must not be handed out without controls on a company whose attitude to its workers is irresponsible and callous in the extreme.
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