The Scottish Government will do all it can to secure the future of Michelin workers affected by the planned closure of the Dundee plant, finance secretary Derek Mackay has said.
An action group has been established and will meet in the city on Monday following the company’s announcement the tyre factory will cease production within two years.
Dundee City Council leader John Alexander described the proposed shutdown as a “body blow” for all 845 workers.
A meeting was held yesterday at the plant, while production has been suspended until tomorrow to allow employees to digest the news.
Mr Mackay, who met representatives from Michelin, the Unite union and Dundee City Council, said: “This is devastating news for the area and that’s why the Scottish Government is totally focused on trying to salvage what we can from the situation.
“I’m establishing an action group that will bring together the best proposition we can possibly put to Michelin to try to ensure that the plant and the workforce have a future here.
“The company does not want to revisit the decision but that’s not going to deter me from putting forward the best possible proposition I can for the workforce.
“We can look at a range of interventions and I call on the UK government to step up to the plate as well.”
Mr Mackay, who met senior Michelin executives in Paris on Sunday after learning of the planned closure, added: “I do believe there’s hope for the factory but only if we all pull together.”
Potential options include “repurposing” the factory to do other work for Michelin.
The market for premium smaller tyres such as those produced at the Tayside factory has dropped significantly due to an increase in cheap imports from Asia and a shift to larger car tyres, according to the French firm.
The plant opened in 1971 is due to cease operations by mid-2020.
Unite said it had been working on a “flexibility agreement” involving voluntary redundancies and changes to the shift patterns over the last two months to secure the factory’s future. It said it was given no notice of Monday evening’s announcement.
Many workers said they found out via the news and social media.
Marc Jackson, Unite Michelin convener, said: “It is important to stress to the workforce and the wider community in Dundee that Unite has a viable plan on the table.
“The flexibility agreement, which we believed would be signed-off this week, takes into consideration the current challenging market conditions but we have a plan in place to manage this situation over the coming years.
“The workforce can be assured that Unite will work tirelessly to ensure that this flexibility agreement is reconsidered by the Michelin Group and that the factory can stay open.”
Drew Morris, 55, who has worked at Michelin for 34 years, said: “I’ll be OK – it is the younger guys I’m devastated for. There are young guys in there with big mortgages and big financial commitments. They have said they will support people – if you want to go and retrain as a gas fitter or something they will pay your fees. But the closure has come out of the blue.”
He added: “These are good, well paid jobs in here – they’re not going to be replaced by the service jobs coming up down in the docks and the city.
“It is a shame for the younger generation. They haven’t blamed Brexit for this but how can it not be to do with that.
“Everything we make is imported then exported – if there are going to be problems at the borders how can that not affect us?”
Dundee East MSP Shona Robison said all options would be looked at.
She said: “It’s not going to be easy but one thing that really comes through is just how strong the workforce is.
“They have been flexible over the years, they have been to many a kind of cliff edge with this plant and have come through the other side of it.
“Everybody is determined to do everything possible to either maintain the plant or repurpose the plant to maintain as many jobs as possible.”
Dundee is part of a £350 million Tay Cities Deal aimed at boosting economic growth in the region through investment from both the Scottish and UK governments.
Michelin said it would provide a personalised support package for each worker, with the opportunity to train in new skills and the possibility of being redeployed within the company or elsewhere.
It will begin a consultation with employees and trade unions on the closure plan over the next fortnight.