Sacked Mini workers had an hour’s notice

Today, 850 workers at the BMW plant in Oxford, which manufactures the Mini car, were fired because the company was facing falling sales. The Mini was a long-standing Austin/Rover product, which was saved when the old state-owned motor giant was broken up after privatisation. The Mini had a reputation as an old ladies’ car, but there was also the Mini Cooper sports car (famous from The Italian Job) and this was updated by BMW. They also manufactured the Mini One, which didn’t look much different from the new Cooper. The old lady Mini is no more.

Most of the workers were temporary agency staff, and such staff could be sacked without notice and have no right to redundancy pay. Will Hutton was interviewed on the BBC News just now, and noted that there had been a growth in agency working as a result of the liberalisation of British labour laws; some staff like the flexibility, he said, but others had no choice. The problem of casualisation of labour has been noted in the Guardian in the past, with long-standing workers being laid off and “temporary” staff being taken on from agencies, who are paid less and have vastly fewer rights.

I’ve been working through agencies for several years, and while one can sometimes appreciate the flexibility, the client holds pretty much all the cards. This can include capricious sackings (as with one experience I had in which I was sacked by a manager who rushed past me at a narrowing point in a road, then accused me of trying to overtake him on the left) and being sacked after taking a week off to attend a family wedding, having been told I would be coming back afterwards (the foreman had the opinion that if you keep agency staff for too long, they get their feet under the table).

To be fair, the BMW Mini was always a bizarre, “ironic” lifestyle accessory and something which could never survive a major economic downturn; one suspects people will be wanting more normal cars if they want new cars at all in the new climate. Perhaps they should start producing old lady Minis again. However, there are many countries in Europe where this simply could not have happened; British workers have among the worst rights in the developed world.

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