LONDON: Several thousand Indians, the majority of whom are Goans, are set to lose their jobs after car manufacturer Honda, on Tuesday, announced the closure of its Swindon car plant.
The Japanese company builds 150,000 Honda Civic Hatchbacks annually in the Wiltshire town, its only car factory in the EU, and exports them to more than 70 countries.
Honda announced it would close its Swindon vehicle manufacturing plant at the end of the current model’s production lifecycle in 2021, to focus on building electrified cars.
This will lead to 3,500 job losses, affecting at least 900 permanent staff who are persons of Indian-origin (PIOs), according to sources. Whilst the majority are Goan, they include PIOs from all over India including Punjab and .
Many thousand more PIOs, mainly Goans, work in the Honda supply chain. “More than 10,000 people are employed in Honda’s supply chain in Swindon, 65% of whom are of Indian-origin,” a Honda general associate and a Goan, told TOI. “These guys are not part of the 3,500 figure. Eventually, they will lose their jobs too.”
The Honda supply chain includes TS Tech UK Limited, which makes car seats for Honda; Honda Logistics, UK, which delivers parts to the Swindon plant; SDC which runs Honda’s warehousing operations and G-Tem which supplies parts. Approximately 20,000 Goans live in Swindon where Honda is the main employer.
Several PIO workers told TOI that the first time they heard about it was on the news on Monday. “We were doing our jobs, working on engines and then someone saw it on the news in the canteen. We all went in (to work) on Tuesday, were officially informed and then told to go home,” a worker said.
“It’s a sad time for everyone affected and it is unfortunate that they found out via the media rather than from the company,” said Swindon’s first councillor of Goan-origin, Labour’s Imtiyaz Shaikh. He said it had come as a “bitter blow” to employees and he holds responsible. Shaikh said estimates were that 7,000 people in the town would lose their jobs in total.
“The prime minister now needs to rule out ‘no deal’ immediately and keep us in the single market and customs union rather than risk further fatal damage to our car industry,” he said.
“People are in shock. I have a child and my parents live with me, plus my wife. This will have a huge impact on our household income,” said a Goan, who has been employed as a Honda associate. He moved to the UK in 2005 as a dependant on his father’s Portuguese passport.
“We have two years to find jobs. There is nothing in Swindon, that’s for sure. I’m not sure what jobs are left in the car industry in the UK. Jaguar Land Rover has announced 4,500 job cuts, is not going to build its flagship X-Trail car here. We will have to change trades or work in a warehouse.”
Though Honda did not blame Brexit, staff whom TOI spoke to, said it had played a role.
“Honda does not have the infrastructure to build electric cars here, but it does in Japan. has signed a FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the EU so that’s why. If the UK government had come up with a deal for a soft Brexit, this would not have happened. But at the end of the day, they don’t want to pay the extra tariffs,” the worker said.
Another Goan, who has worked at Honda for 15 years in various departments and is a Portuguese passport holder, told TOI, “It is the uncertainty. If Honda invests more money into the plant, it could be a problem if they face tariffs after Brexit. I know at one point they were thinking of upgrading this plant to make electric cars here, but not anymore.
“I really like working there. I get a new lease car every year. Generations of the same family work there. Swindon is going to become a ghost town. Everyone depends on the plant. It pays well and people’s lifestyle depend on it.”
President, Goan Swindon Association, Nelson Carvalho said, “This is going to have a devastating effect on Goans in Swindon because so many of them work for Honda and its supply chain. In 2021, they will all be looking for new jobs. They are all settled here with families and mortgages to pay. Most of them own houses. I don’t think any of them are planning on returning to Goa yet, but as 2021 gets closer, they might do. With Brexit looming, it is not going to be easy to find jobs in the same field.”
Trade union Unite said the closure would be “catastrophic” for Swindon and it would campaign to save the jobs under threat.
President, Honda Motor Europe, Katsushi Inoue, said: “This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling the announcement will be for our people.”