SACKED workers have painted a bleak picture of the North East jobs market a year after they were made redundant without warning.
AEI Cables in Birtley, Gateshead fired 126 staff without any notice or pay-off late last May in what bosses said was a desperate attempt to save the company.
But as many of those still unemployed men and women yesterday marched on the gates of their former employer in continued protest at their treatment, many admitted the road back to work has been a near-impossible one.
Former production planner Ian Harris, 51, from Perkinsville, who spent 34 years at AEI, said he had been applying “for at least one job a day” but only receiving “probably one response in 10” and from that had only been invited for around a dozen interviews.
“I feel my age counts against me,” said Mr Harris, who says he never received any training certificates during his time with the company and has therefore had to go on courses to prove he knows how to use a forklift truck and a computer.
“I’ve done them just so when I go to an interview I can say I have them, but I think companies take one look at my grey hair and decide they’d rather have one of the 18 or 19-year-old lads I’m up against who can give a lifetime’s service.”
Father-of two Paul Pringle, 45, a former union rep at the plant, which is still operating, said he had been forced to turn to family members for help after being unable to find work that would fit around his childcare responsibilities.
“If there was a job with day-shift hours that would still allow me to look after my two school-age children then I’d do anything,” he said.
“I’ve had support from my family and hopefully the kids aren’t suffering, but it’s been hard at times.”
Former councillor Cathy King, who lost her seat in local elections earlier this month, said yesterday’s march showed there was still a spirit to fight for a better deal for the redundant workers.
She also said that in the wake of the Beecroft report, which called for firms to be able to sack staff without having to provide a reason, their protests were more important than ever.
“What’s happening here is an absolute disgrace,” she said. “It’s an example of what happens if people are put of out of work without redundancy or consultation. Therefore it’s vitally important they win their employment tribunal cases.
“But this matter doesn’t end here because we feel European lawmakers need to look very closely at what this company has done with regards ignoring employment legislation.
“As far as we’re concerned, immediately on the conclusion of the tribunals, we’ll be passing on all the paperwork we’ve got.”
Clive Sharp, chief executive of AEI Cables, said: “Regretfully, we had to act swiftly to try to save the jobs of many of our workforce when we made the redundancies this time last year to concentrate on our core markets in industrial and fire performance cables.
“We still employ 189 people, a testament to the teamwork which has gone in to save the plant. We sympathise with those who had to be made redundant, but we had no choice at the time.”
What’s happening here is an absolute disgrace ... it’s vital they win their tribunal cases