New hope blossoms from Tulip closure

More than 100 workers at a Wirral meat processing factory have been given the chance for a new start thanks to a partnership between Unite, unionlearn and local colleges. Many have now been given new skills and accreditation to help them apply for new jobs, following the plant’s closure.

Unite officials were left reeling in January when bosses at Tulip announced the closure of the plant after ten years and the start of a 90 day consultation period. For many of the staff, the announcement, which came as Unite officials were preparing for wage negotiations, put families in jeopardy.

Senior Steward Chris Mann said: “It came as a blow to all of us. We have many couples who worked at the plant and being told that your workplace was shutting was a bolt out of the blue.”

The first priority for full time Unite officer Franny Joyce was to try and save the plant. But as the 90 days came and went it became clear that the company were not going to change their mind. They officially announced the site closure in March.

Representatives, in partnership with unionlearn and local colleges, had used the 90-day period to explore potential learning opportunities and official accreditation for the skills workers had already acquired whilst working at Tulip.

ULR and Branch Secretary Dave Winrow said: “We knew when the announcement was made back in January that the factory would probably close and we knew that members would struggle to find work in a very competitive local labour market without accrediting their current skills or improving their skill set.”

Through unionlearn, funding was obtained through the LSfAF redundancy support programme to second Dave Winrow to carry out an initial assessment of the skills needs of members and to ensure redundant staff were given every opportunity to equip themselves for finding work.

Dave, other reps on site and Unite regional ULF co-ordinator, John Lea, set about organising IAG and pensions sessions for all staff. They offered CV and computer skills sessions, together with benefit advice from One Fund For All (OFFA.)

Next Steps and Job Centre Plus were also brought in to help through the rapid redundancy response programme.

The next step was to officially accredit staff on the site up to NVQ levels 1 and 2 to make sure they had tangible evidence of the knowledge and experience they had gained. Mr Lea approached West Cheshire College who worked tirelessly, and within a very tight timeline, to complete the NVQ programme in Warehouse and Storage. On site instructors were also used for fork lift truck training to RTITB approved standard.

Then a career change fund, which was financially supported by Tulip to the tune of £10,000 together with what was left of branch funds, was set up.

Dave Winrow said: “This has given our members the chance to help fund learning such as HGV and LGV training, IT training, fitness training and Business start up advice.”

But the company had more shocks in store for the workforce as they battled to ready themselves for closure and redundancy. Tulip suddenly brought forward the closure of the factory to April, raising fears that there would be an impact on the courses and training held on site. Thankfully, Tulip allowed staff to continue visiting the site for training - the vast majority stayed with the programme, despite getting no financial gain.

John Lea said: “The providers and the union were so relieved and pleased that staff continued with training after the factory closure. It is testament to the work carried out by Unite reps on site, unionlearn and the college providers that we completed what we set out to achieve in such a short space of time.”

As a result more than 100 staff - a third of the workforce - took up training and got redundancy support through Unite and unionlearn. A significant number of those people made redundant have gone on to find alternative work as a result of the training and accreditation they received through the Tulip Redundancy support project.

Dave Winrow said: “I know of a lot of examples of people who are thankful for what their union has done for them at this very difficult time in their life. It has also led to a lot of them maintaining their membership of Unite as a result.”